Professions and Professionalism

Acceptable behavior is defined within various professional groups, be it a laboratory, agency, professional association, committee, business, or profession as a whole. Each group has a code of acceptable behavior known as professional ethics. Professions are complex social organizations that evolve over time and define themselves. Members agree on the internal codes of practice and establish the relationship between the profession and the rest of society. Codes of practice include training, education, certification, licensure, expectations, and code of ethics. If all members share a moral ideal, those ideals represent the core values of the profession. There are some stereotypes regarding professional ethics. People tend to think that professionalism implies setting aside personal ideas to focus solely on the profession and that professional ethics are summed up in the code of ethics without attention to the individual’s ideals, virtues, or character. Individuals’ morals are shaped by their environment, politics, religion, culture, and families; these factors require consideration and are the core of a group’s ethical principles. Professional ethics are unattainable without a sense of individual morality; however, just because someone exhibits virtues in their professional life does not mean he or she does the same in his or her personal life (or vice versa). Adolf Hitler’s scientists were a good example of this; they were considered nice people personally, but they were evil professionally and had various motives. The final aspect to consider regarding professions is the leadership role. Leadership describes an exerting influence from a position of authority, fostering cooperation, and persuading a group toward particular actions. Ineffective leadership occurs when there is incompetence, callousness, corruption, disregard for people, and a lack of self-control. More specifically, leaders who are greedy, disloyal, or selfish are not useful for professions. Proficient leaders advance professions because they take effective, ethical actions. Professions are large groups that combine personal characteristics and excellent leadership to create standards of appropriate behavior for its members. The nature of the forensic science profession is to balance personal and professional characteristics, as the work that is conducted occurs in a larger social and political context.

Standards of behavior are a starting point to ensure ethical behavior and integrity within the forensic science profession. In addition to standards, practitioners should seek to advance the future of the profession through the creation of environments that promote ethical behaviors, the discovery of fresh possibilities as opposed to traditional ones, and redefinition of professional roles, if necessary. The foundation of professional ethics is rooted in the management culture from the frequency of issues occurring to how issues are handled, to the value placed on receiving information, to the importance of integrity agency wide, and finally to the severity of consequences for unethical behavior. Ethics starts with each of us; it is important to embrace the diversity and the varying thoughts or opinions that create individuals. It is important to talk about ethics, to ask questions, to keep searching for answers, to encourage ethical behavior, and to discourage unethical behavior. People should review situations to determine who benefited, who did not benefit, why it took a particular direction, how it could have ended differently, and the potential reasons or justifications for why a particular path was chosen. Creativity is a useful tool in advancing the study of ethics because it involves curiosity, open-mindedness, flexibility, perseverance, purpose, experimentation, and patience. These characteristics help individuals to produce valuable new ways of thinking and approaching situations. The advancement of ethics depends on individual awareness.

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