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Professional identities and regulation: a literature review

13 Dec 2016 | Professional Standards Authority
  • Research Papers

A review of literature to help us better understand how professional identities are acquired and developed amongst health and social care professionals.

How are professional identities are acquired and developed amongst health and social care professionals?

This paper forms part of our work considering the impact and effects of regulation on professionals’ behaviour. There are many types of professional identity such as team, hospital, individual, and regional, but the literature review will be orientated towards professional identities related to vocation or job.

Understanding the effects of regulation is key to honing good policy. Some effects may be unintentional or may not be identified or understood for years until after a policy is implemented. Professional identity, although not a primary focus of regulation, may be affected by regulation. It is notable, for example, that professions often seek to be regulated by a profession specific regulator. It is useful therefore, to consider whether regulation does in fact have any bearing on the formation of professional identity and if so, what effect that has on public safety.

This Review

The primary purpose of this literature review is not only to understand if regulation affects professional identity, but to situate regulation among other factors to give perspective on the scope of regulation’s influence on professional identity. The review will also seek to understand how professional identity affects health and social care practitioners’ in their practice. Formation of professional identity has also been viewed as important in the ‘development of a set of internal standards’ or “internal compass” to regulate professionals’ work. Changes to professionals’ behaviour and practice as a result of professional identity make it an important topic from a regulatory standpoint concerned with ensuring high standards of public safety.

Research was conducted on an array of online databases: Wiley, Sage, Taylor & Francis, British Medical Journal, JStor and National Center for Biotechnology Information. Websites of UK professional regulators, professional bodies and government departments were also used. The search strategy for finding pertinent literature was not limited by any chronological or geographical criteria and used different combinations of the following search terms: ‘professional identity’, ‘identity’, ‘formation’, ‘development’ , ‘quality of care’, ‘patient safety’, ‘regulation’, ‘health’, ‘social care’ and ‘role’.

Much of the health and social care professional identity literature is orientated towards doctors and nurses, hence this paper features many examples from medical and nursing fields. However, there is a lack of literature on regulation’s role in professional identity – much of the information in the regulation section of this paper has been pieced together from grey literature, such as consultations, government papers, and think-tank reports, as well as academic research. 

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