What are Professional Values and Ethics?

Professional values and ethics are beliefs and principles that an individual possesses to guide oneself to evaluate what is right and wrong in a professional environment. In short, it is the imaginary moral line that one would have internally to uphold professional actions.
Chan, CKY (2021)

Professional values are the guiding beliefs and principles that influence one’s work behaviour. These values are usually an extension of one’s personal values such as honesty, responsibility, integrity and are unique to each person based on one’s family, culture, environment, religion, and ethnicity (Poorchangizi et al., 2017).

Professional ethics are the principles and standards that govern one’s behaviour in a professional environment. Different professions and businesses have their own codes of conduct which people are expected to follow.

The actual standards for professional values and ethics may differ depending on many factors including one’s culture, religion, beliefs. Often the standards are based on society’s accepted beliefs and principles (the norm behaviours) in which people would accept to live and work in harmony with one another.

 

Do You Possess Professional Values and Ethics?

Although professional values may differ depending on the profession, there are some universal values that we all should possess and practice to be literate in professional values and ethics.

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Do You Possess Professional Values and Ethics?

 

Why are Professional Values and Ethics Important?

Professional values and ethics are important because they are considered as the guideline and motivation of professional behaviour. They are “standards for action that are accepted by professional groups and individuals, and are used to evaluate the integrity of the individual or organization” (Poorchangizi et al., 2017). There are a range of benefits for promoting professional values in different levels:

Personal Level

Professional values and ethics guide one to make ethical decisions and to behave in an ethical manner, which can have a positive impact on our personal growth as well as on the quality of life for our surrounding community. They also reinforce individuals’ professional identity and performance, thus increasing their confidence to work in an organization.

Business Level

Professional values and ethics can provide a positive image for an organization for clients, competitors and the public. They can provide a common understanding of acceptable practice which makes the organization more reliable. By providing the standards of appropriate behaviour, they also help build friendly and respectful work environment as misunderstandings among employees can be reduced.

Public Level

Professional values and ethics build confidence in the professions’ trustworthiness by providing a common understanding of acceptable practice. They also provide greater transparency to clients and members of the society when the codes of conduct are disclosed publicly.

 

How are Professional Values and Ethics Developed?

It is important to help learners to develop their professional values and ethics prior to entry into the workforce. As mentioned, the actual standards for values and ethics may differ depending on many factors including one’s culture, religion, family, it will take time to develop or change mindset. Various approaches to professional values and ethics education have been adopted across disciplines, such as law, medicine, social work, and business. In medical education, for instance, experiential learning approach in clinical settings is necessary for students to encompass knowledge of professionalism (Cruess & Cruess, 2012). Active learning and problem-based approach such as case studies, role-playing, group discussions are also common strategies of teaching professional values in various fields.

Case Study

Role Play: Ethics Education in University Auditing Courses (Taplin et al., 2018)

Short role-plays were designed by the lecturer focusing on a range of financial accounting/auditing concepts and involved clients trying to convince the auditors to engage in unethical practices. These role-plays challenge fundamental principles such as integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, and professional behaviour that auditors were required to comply with the code of ethics. Examples of role-play scenarios are presented as follows:

“The Disclosure Role-Play”: The client is facing a going-concern issue and is expecting the auditor to ignore the fact that no disclosure of financial difficulties has been made.

“The Recruitment Role-Play”: The auditor is going to be employed by an audit client, but the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants requires a time gap between an auditor leaving the audit firm and joining the client to avoid familiarity or intimidation threats to an auditor’s independence.

After each role-play activity, the teacher facilitated a class discussion about the issues and ethical dilemmas present in each activity. This is essential for students to reflect on how they analysed and responded to the scenario and have clarity about the appropriate way to respond within the professional context.

Ethics Autobiography in Training Clinical Psychologists (Bashe et al., 2007)

At the beginning of semester, students were assigned a reflective writing assignment to respond to questions about their personal ethics of origin, their ethnic and religious background, and their knowledge in psychology ethics. The questions challenge students to consider specifically how their own personal values, backgrounds, and traditions may interact or conflict with professional ethics in psychology. Some of the guiding questions include:

  • What is your idea of right and wrong personal behaviour, and where does this conception come from?

  • What did you learn from your family of origin about right and wrong?

  • What formative experiences account for how you live your life?

  • What experiences have you had in the field, and what ethical dilemmas have you already encountered?

  • What professional ethics in the field are most compatible with your own personal values, and which professional ethics are least compatible? (p.62)

At the end of semester, students revise their ethics autobiography by incorporating their reflective learning experience throughout the semester. Ethics autobiography strategy can enhance students’ self-reflection and ethical sensitivity in their professional practice. It also allows for more positive integration of personal ethics and professional ethics.

 

How Should I Assess Professional Values and Ethics?

Assessment of professional values and ethics can be different depending on the professions. In the medical profession which involves clinical practices, professional values and ethics are often evaluated by observation of their practices, patients’ opinions, report, simulation etc. (Wilkinson, Wade, & Knock, 2009). Nevertheless, many teachers find it challenging to assess professional values because they find it hard to determine a baseline. Despite being committed to their own practice, some teachers and/or practitioners find it stressful to judge the professional values and ethics of others, especially when they perceive it as unfair to judge someone for their personal beliefs (Woods, 2015). While they are dedicated to safeguard standards for the profession, some teachers and/or practitioners experience fear of being seen to be potentially discriminatory although they seek to evaluate the behaviour rather than the person (Woods, 2015).

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Examples of Assessment Approaches

for Professional Values and Ethics

Instead of fixating on the difficulties in assessment, teachers can facilitate the development of professional values and ethics by engaging students in dialogues to promote their reflection on these values and codes of practice (Birden et al., 2013). Although the dialogues may not be conducted for the purpose of assessment, skilfully guided discussions can promote engagement with ethical issues and support the development of professional values and ethics by drawing out students’ self-awareness of their personal values, introducing diverse opinions, challenging assumptions, and providing feedback (Woods, 2015).

Case Study

Below is an example of how the assessment of professionalism in the classroom can successfully promotes self-reflection of professional values:

On the first day of class, students are informed that professionalism accounts for 10-15% of the overall grade. On the course syllabus, the instructor lists out eight professional values and the specific behaviours associated with each professional value, which are commitment to excellence, honesty and integrity, expertise, humility, respect, compassion, awareness of interpersonal boundaries, and comportment. Each student begins the term with 100 points and loses a point for each unprofessional behaviour exhibited, such as turning in the paper late. Throughout the term, the instructor reminds students of the professionalism requirement, either in class discussions or in a formal assignment where specific values are explored. Students are also asked to write a short paper on the professional code of conduct or ethics for their specific discipline, and they are able to participate in debates or group project to demonstrate their professionalism. The final exam includes the question that asks students to discuss their professional habits, attitudes, and behaviours that they could have improved in class. According to student feedback, they took this opportunity to reflect on their behaviour and saw their classroom experiences as preparation for the “real” world. (Keaton, 2017)

 

References

Bashe, A., Anderson, S. K., Handelsman, M. M., & Klevansky, R. (2007). An Acculturation Model for Ethics Training: The Ethics Autobiography and Beyond. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(1), 60-67.

Birden, H., Glass, N., Wilson, I., Harrison, M., Usherwood, T., & Nass, D. (2013). Teaching professionalism in medical education: A Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) systematic review. BEME Guide No. 25. Med Teach, 35(7), e1252-e1266. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2013.789132

Cruess, S. R., & Cruess, R. L. (2012). Teaching professionalism - Why, What and How. Facts, views & vision in ObGyn, 4(4), 259–265. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987476/

Keaton, A. F. (2017, November 17). Teaching Students the Importance of Professionalism. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/teaching-students-importance-professionalism/

Poorchangizi, B., Farokhzadian, J., Abbaszadeh, A., Mirzaee, M., Borhani, F. (2017). The importance of professional values from clinical nurses’ perspective in hospitals of a medical university in Iran. BMC Med Ethics, 18, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12910-017-0178-9

Taplin, R., Singh, A., Kerr, R., & Lee, A. (2018). The use of short role-plays for an ethics intervention in university auditing courses, Accounting Education, 27(4), 383-402. https://doi.org/10.1080/09639284.2018.1475244

Wilkinson, T. J., Wade, W. B., & Knock L. D. (2009). A Blueprint to Assess Professionalism: Results of a Systematic Review. Academic Medicine, 84(5), 551-558. DOI: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31819fbaa2

Woods, T. (2015). Practice educators’ experiences of facilitating and assessing student values and ethics learning: Constructing dialogue. Social Work Education, 34(8), 936-951. https://doi.org/10.1080/02615479.2015.1087997