During a staff meeting in my practice, the owner said in order to be better than the competition we needed to be more professional. When I asked him what that meant she said that I should already know that. What does being professional mean?

Professional is a word I often hear and often read. When I think about the meaning of this word an image comes to my mind of a person I deem to be professional. Smartly dressed, polite, knowledgeable, caring, punctual and self-aware. When I think about the meaning of this word I struggle to explain it. I know what it looks like but can’t describe it. Professionalism; difficult to describe but I know it when I see it.

Even though I think I know what the word means every now and then I have to look it up. Professionalism is often taken for granted amongst people with higher qualifications- but qualification alone does not necessarily confer it.

According to the College of Optometrist, professionalism in optometry is defined as ‘being honest and knowledgeable; acting ethically in the best interests of patients; applying knowledge; improving competence and critical judgement; communicating effectively with patients, colleagues, other health professionals and the wider community; and actively following professional guidance. The College expects optometrists to imbue everything they do with professionalism.’

Knowledge can be learnt from books and lectures and it should be taken for granted that eye specialists have knowledge. Although there is an overlap in that in order to know what professional behaviour is, knowledge is required, in my opinion, its behaviour that counts and this can be difficult to instil.

Professionalism relates to behaviour and this is about the consideration of others. To me these are some of the attributes of a professional:

  • The awareness of others.
  • Awareness of what others might be thinking.
  • Awareness of what others might be doing, what they want to do and what they might be thinking of you.
  • Being polite.
  • Caring about other people whether you know them or not
  • Caring about what is around you, nature, cleanliness, not wilfully damaging anything.
  • Thinking about yourself last.

It boils down to the consideration of other people, not necessarily those immediately in the vicinity or even born yet. Having a professional approach to working will increase the number of people that think this way, make life nicer, pleasanter, friendlier, more interesting and more enjoyable.

Be a human being and not a human doing.

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