IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The end of professionalism?


  • Southon, Gray
  • Braithwaite, Jeffrey


Increasingly questions are being raised about the ability of many current health reforms to address the challenges that are facing health systems. We investigate this situation by exploring the role of professionalism in the delivery of health services. In contrast to the dominant approach of considering professionalism as a social phenomenon, professionalism is considered as primarily a task-related phenomenon. The characteristics of the task are identified as being high levels of uncertainty and complexity. These characteristics are shown to lead naturally to the key social features that typify professionalism. Hence, the close link between professionalism and the nature of the task is argued. However, health reforms threaten professionalism. They have been based on considerable dissatisfaction with the performance of professionals as well as the emergence of a number of new challenges. In addition, the reforms have been developed without significant consideration of the central role that professionalism has played, and reformers have adopted a simplified view of the task. Thus, the centrality of professionalism has intrinsically been downgraded. However, this simplification can be shown to be inconsistent with the realities and complexities of health service provision, and thus the downgrading of professionalism is unwarranted. This inconsistency generates many of the conflicts and contradictions being reported. The future of health service reform depends on an effective understanding of the nature of the task, recognition of the central role of professionalism and the development of professional and organisational structures that support each other.

Suggested Citation

  • Southon, Gray & Braithwaite, Jeffrey, 1998. "The end of professionalism?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 23-28, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:46:y:1998:i:1:p:23-28

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Hampton, Gerald M. & Hampton, Dorothee L., 2004. "Relationship of professionalism, rewards, market orientation and job satisfaction among medical professionals: The case of Certified Nurse-Midwives," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 57(9), pages 1042-1053, September.
    2. Racko, Girts, 2017. "Bureaucratization and medical professionals’ values: A cross-national analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 180(C), pages 76-84.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:46:y:1998:i:1:p:23-28. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.