A profession is a field of work that has been successfully professionalized.[1] Though the following definition might not withstand historiographical scrutiny, by some modern definitions a profession is a disciplined group of individuals (professionals) who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others.[2][3]

A 19th century etching of a farmer consulting with his doctor, vicar and lawyer

Professional occupations are founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply disinterested objective counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain.[4] Medieval and early modern tradition recognized only three professions: divinity, medicine, and law,[5][6] which were called the learned professions.[7] A profession is not a trade[8] and not an industry.[9]

The term profession is a truncation of the term liberal profession, which is, in turn, an Anglicization of the French term profession libérale. Originally borrowed by English users in the 19th century, it has been re-borrowed by international users from the late 20th, though the (upper-middle) class overtones of the term do not seem to survive re-translation: "liberal professions" are, according to the European Union's Directive on Recognition of Professional Qualifications (2005/36/EC), "those practised on the basis of relevant professional qualifications in a personal, responsible and professionally independent capacity by those providing intellectual and conceptual services in the interest of the client and the public".

Some professions change slightly in status and power, but their prestige generally remains stable over time, even if the profession begins to have more required study and formal education.[10] Disciplines formalized more recently, such as architecture, now have equally long periods of study associated with them.[11]

Although professions may enjoy relatively high status and public prestige, not all professionals earn high salaries, and even within specific professions there exist significant differences in salary. In law, for example, a corporate defense lawyer working on an hourly basis may earn several times what a prosecutor or public defender earns.

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