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A professional is a person who is engaged in a certain activity, or occupation, for gain or compensation as means of livelihood; such as a permanent career, not as an amateur or pasttime. The traditional professions were doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects and commissioned military officers. Today, the term is applied to nurses, accountants, educators, scientists, technology experts, social workers, artists, librarians (information professionals) and many more.
The term is also used in sports to differentiate amateur players from those who are paid—hence "professional footballer" and "professional golfer". Many companies include the word professional in their store name to imply the quality of their workmanship or service.
In some cultures, the term is used as shorthand to describe a particular social stratum of well-educated, salaried workers who enjoy considerable work autonomy and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work.
Due to the personal and confidential nature of many professional services, and thus the necessity to place a great deal of trust in them, most professionals are subject to strict codes of conduct enshrining rigorous ethical and moral obligations.
The main criteria for professionals include the following:
- Expert and specialized knowledge in field which one is practising professionally.
- Excellent manual/practical and literary skills in relation to profession.
- High quality work in (examples): creations, products, services, presentations, consultancy, primary/other research, administrative, marketing, photography or other work endeavours.
- A high standard of professional ethics, behaviour and work activities while carrying out one's profession (as an employee, self-employed person, career, enterprise, business, company, or partnership/associate/colleague, etc.). The professional owes a higher duty to a client, often a privilege of confidentiality, as well as a duty not to abandon a genuine client just because he or she may not be able to pay or remunerate the professional. Often the professional is required to put the interest of the client ahead of his own interests.
- Reasonable work morale and motivation. Having interest and desire to do a job well as holding positive attitude towards the profession are important elements in attaining a high level of professionalism.
- Appropriate treatment of relationships with colleagues. Consideration should be shown to elderly, junior or inexperienced colleagues, as well as those with special needs. An example must be set to perpetuate the attitude of one's business without doing it harm.
- A professional is an expert who is a master in a specific field.
In narrow usage, not all expertise is considered a profession. Although sometimes referred to as professions, occupations such as skilled construction and maintenance work are more generally thought of as trades or crafts. The completion of an apprenticeship is generally associated with skilled labor or trades such as carpenter, electrician, mason, painter, plumber and other similar occupations. A related distinction would be that a professional does mainly mental or administrative work, as opposed to engaging in physical work.
In sports, a professional is someone who receives monetary compensation for participating. The opposite is an amateur, meaning a person who does not receive monetary compensation. The term "professional" is commonly used incorrectly when referring to sports, as the distinction simply refers to how the athlete is funded, and not necessarily competitions or achievements.
Sometimes the professional status of an activity is controversial; for example, there is debate as to whether professionals should be allowed to compete in the Olympics. The motivation for money (either in rewards, salaries or advertising revenue) is sometimes seen as a corrupting influence, tainting a sport.
It has been suggested that the crude, all or nothing categories, of professional or amateur should be reconsidered. A historical shift is occurring with the rise of Pro‑Ams, a new category of people pursuing amateur activities to professional standards.
Although professional training appears to be ideologically neutral, it may be biased towards those with higher class backgrounds and a formal education. They are more likely to have conservative political opinions and are unlikely to challenge the orthodoxy of the profession. In his 2000 book, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives, Jeff Schmidt observes that qualified professionals are less creative and diverse in their opinions and habits than non-professionals, which he attributes to the subtle indoctrination and filtering which accompanies the process of professional training. His evidence is both qualitative and quantitative, including professional examinations, industry statistics and personal accounts of trainees and professionals. A study on journalistic professionalism argued that professionalism is a combination of two factors, secondary socialization of journalists in the workplace and the fetishization of journalistic norms and standards. In this way, undesirable traits in new employees can be weeded out, and remaining employees are free to cynically criticize their professional norms as long as they keep working and following them. The latter concept adapted from philosopher Slavoj Žižek and his concept of ideology.
The etymology and historical meaning of the term professional seems to indicate an individual whose philosophy and habits have been conditioned by a professor. So, a professional is the follower of a professor. Plumbers are therefore not considered professionals. While they certainly make a living doing what they do, with a particular expertise, and with a certain expectation of manners, plumbers do not acquire their skills through a professor, or even through a professional professor. They learn from private firms that distribute the knowledge, or they learn from friendly association with a master plumber.
See also 
- Oxford English Dictionary Definition of professional
- Meriam Webster's Definition of professional
- Gilbert, D. (1998). The American class structure: In an age of growing inequality. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Press.
- Beeghley, L. (2004). The structure of social stratification in the United States. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Eichar, D. (1989). Occupation and Class Consciousness in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-26111-4
- Ehrenreich, B. (1989). Fear of falling: The inner life of the middle class. New York: Harper Prennial.
- Professional – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-webster.com (2010-08-13). Retrieved on 2011-01-29.
- Professional | Define Professional at Dictionary.com. Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved on 2011-01-29.
- Schmidt, Jeff, 2000, Disciplined Minds - A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes their Lives, Rowman & Littlefield, pp.293.
- Hearns-Branaman, Jesse Owen, 2013, 'Journalistic professionalism as indirect control and fetishistic disavowal,' Journalism 
- Žižek, Slavoj, 1989, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London, Verso)