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For Authors Continuing Education
Vol. 70, No. 8
ISSN: 1488-2159
September 2004


Is Dentistry a Profession? Part 1. Professionalism Defined


• Jos V.M. Welie, MMedS, JD, PhD •

A b s t r a c t

Individual dentists and organized dentistry alike invariably claim to be (members of) a profession. This label is cherished because it suggests special social, moral and political status. However, almost every self-respecting occupation nowadays claims to be a profession. Hence, the question arises as to what exactly is meant when dentists claim to be professionals and, more important, whether they can justifiably lay claim to this label.

Rather than reviewing the manifold and divergent discussions in the literature about professionalism, the author proposes — in this first of 3 consecutive articles — a definition of the term “profession” that is based on the literal origins of the word.

Next, it is argued that a profession arises out of a social contract between the public and a service occupation that professes to give priority to the existential needs of the people served. In the second article, the author deduces several professional responsibilities. The third and final article examines whether and to what extent dentistry fulfills these responsibilities and outlines some future challenges.


MeSH Key Words: dental care/standards; dentist-patient relations; ethics, dental; professional practice/trends
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