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Professional status: an idea whose time has come?

This issue has risen to the fore again, seemingly with increased vigor. What are the implications for the CSC?

The issue of professionalism and professional status for chemists has been studied in these pages before (ACCN, May 1985, p. 5; June 1991, p.6). With the emergence of a fledgling provincial body in Alberta, the 75th Canadian Chemical Conference was an apt site for a panel discussion on Professional Status for Chemists in Canada.

Bill Cullen, UBC, chaired the session. He asked if this was an idea whose time had come, noting that Quebec and Ontario already had professional chemist associations and that one in Alberta was on its way. "What is the CSC going to do?" He added that the issue has also interested the American Chemical Society.

Peter Kirkby, Ontario Hydro, was the first speaker. He has wide experience on this issue and has contributed to ACCN in the past. He said that in defining a profession in the legal sense, the definition must include a clause whereby members have organized themselves in a self-regulatory body.

A professional association will usually follow one of two paths: certification, where title is controlled; or licensure, where the practice is controlled. As Kirkby noted, "It is the latter which carves into the workplace."

Kirkby has been involved with the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) which is also studying the possibility of reaching for professional status. Survey results show the overwhelming majority of CAP members want professional status.

The question of going it alone, or banding with other scientific groups was also raised. CAP members favor the idea no matter how it's done. Kirkby said the benefits of a larger group include economics and the ability to mount a high profile. He said that this opened the door to a society with a potential membership of 207,000.

Paul Dupuis, Ordre des Chimistes du Quebec (OCQ), said the OCQ now has 2,700 members. Its mission includes overseeing the practise of chemistry in Quebec, defining the qualifications and responsibilities of chemists, maintaining and improving the professional integrity of chemists. A full fee membership costs $230.

Why join? First, to be a chemist in Quebec, you must. But also, Dupuis said the OCQ can influence the evolution of the profession and influence government decisions. It also allows members to be involved as a professional in the protection of the public.

Dennis Bayley, Association of the Chemical Profession of Ontario (ACPO), said his group is now lobbying the government of Ontario for licensure and that there has been support from the government for this move. Full members have the title Chartered Chemist. A full membership costs $40 annually, with a one-time initiation fee of $20. He said the ACPO has representation in all areas -- academic, industry, government -- but that the industry portion is by far the largest. With 1,200 members now, Bayley said the association is looking at a growth in membership to 4,500 to 5,000.

Speaking for Alberta biologists was Mary Anne Sharpe, Alberta Society of Professional Biologists (ASPB). Its purpose is to promote high levels of professional standards and ethics. It acts as a forum for biologists to exchange views. There are three classes of members and full fee membership is $200.

It has been seeking formal status since 1975. The Alberta Professional Organizations and Associations Registration Act provided the mechanism for professional status. The ASPB was registered in 1991 and now has the exclusive use of title, not practise.

From Edmonton, Arthur Bollo-Kamara told why the Alberta group wanted to organize. "It is an investment, an investment that we see being eroded by other associations. Where I first worked, people purported to be chemists, or actually doing chemistry, were not trained in chemistry at all."

The Alberta group has been registered and written its bylaws, but as of the June conference, that's where matters stood.

In opening the floor to questions after the speakers were finished, Cullen noted that there are "obvious profound implications for the CIC, and implications for associations across the land."

Both Bayley and Bollo-Kamara said that the CIC had been of great help already. It is the CIC which has helped these groups understand what's happening in chemistry in Canada as a whole.

Kirkby said that CAP was not sure of the direction it wanted to take, but that professionalism had been a recurrent theme. A survey showed that a majority of members were in favor of seeking professional status. He said this would be an appropriate thing for the Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) to do. Assess the membership; if it is in favor of professionalism, then the CSC should pursue it.

One delegate asked if there were political problems involved, i.e., academics versus industry, that the feeling is academics are against the idea, Bayley said this had not been a problem in Ontario.

The environment was a common thread throughout the panel. The reasoning is that information -- and it is the public's right to know about chemistry -- should come from qualified chemists and not self-styled "environmentalists".

None of the associations monitors the wage levels of its members.

When asked if any discussions had been held with engineers in any province, Bayley said that the ACPO had not spoken with the engineers. "We explored Peter Kirkby's idea of a common association with all scientists. We have informed Ontario engineers of what we're doing. There have been no conflicts yet."

However, Sharpe noted that the engineers were the "biggest force against us."

The possibility exists that representatives from the CIC, CSC and the three existing provincial professional chemical associations will meet at the CIC business meetings in February. If so, it would be a first. For other views, see Viewpoint and the articles by Frank Bachelor and Peter Kirkby in this issue.

ACPA Hopes for Professional Recognition Despite Alberta Decision

On May 15, 1992, The Association of the Chemical Profession of Alberta (ACPA) was duly incorporated in the Province of Alberta. This establishes the third provincial chemical professional association in Canada and is probably a sign of more to come.

The creation of the ACPA is the culmination of several years of work by the Edmonton and Calgary CIC sections with the aid of a number of non-CIC chemists. Although the idea of a professional chemical organization had been suggested 25 years ago, no one seem to think that it was necessary then. Since that time, a number of things have happened that put the chemist in the limelight, if not on the spot.

Twenty-five years ago the word "environment" had a positive connotation whereas today, it brings up images of PCBs, disposal of toxic wastes, effluents from pulp mills and chemical plants, and the list goes on. More and more, the chemist is asked to perform analyses related to water or air quality or to examine an unknown mixture from a discarded drum from an abandoned site.

Although these analyses are frequently performed by technicians or technologists, they should be subject to inspection by a qualified chemist. But who decides who is qualified to perform this latter task? It frequently is done by an engineer who probably is not capable of doing a proper evaluation. The responsibility of determining who is qualified to certify chemical reports and analyses is the role of the provincial chemical professional associations. It was this responsibility which prompted the chemists of Alberta to establish the ACPA.

In 1990, a questionnaire was sent out to over 200 chemists in Alberta regarding the establishment of a professional chemist society. Of 197 responses, 187 were in favor of forming the association. This was an overwhelming mandate to get going. A board of 10 acting directors was selected, five from Edmonton and five from Calgary, and a set of bylaws was created. Finally, the association was provincially recognized.

In setting up the ACPA, the intention was to establish membership requirements as closely as possible to those of the ACPO and the OCQ. It was hoped that this would set a precedent for future chemist associations so that a uniform set of membership requirements would exist across Canada and complete transferability would be the case.

At the present time the ACPA has no real professional status. This will only be achieved when it is recognized by the government of Alberta under the Professional Registrations Act (POARA). Obtaining this recognition is much more rigorous than registering under the Associations Act. It involves demonstrating that it is to the benefit of the public to establish the association and it must also demonstrate that it has the membership and finances to be a viable operation.

Recognition under the POARA would give the members the right to title (P. Chem.) but would not give the right to practice. Although there are a number of professional associations in Alberta which can control the right to practice, the government of Alberta has stated that it will no longer give this to any new associations. This means that it would not be mandatory to belong to the ACPA to practice chemistry in Alberta, but a chemist who could add the letters P. Chem. after his name would demonstrate that he has been certified as being a qualified chemist by a recognized professional association.

The membership drive is now on and the first full meeting of the members is slated to be held sometime next April or May. It is hoped that professional recognition can be achieved within the next three to four years.

Frank Bachelor, FCIC, FWB Chemical Consulting Ltd., is a past president of the CIC and is heavily involved with the ACPA.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; chemists
Author:Rodden, Graeme
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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