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Professionalism: can it meet the needs of the chemist and profession?

The issue of professionalism -- professional status for chemists -- is an issue that has risen to the fore again. The panel discussion at the CSC conference in Edmonton raised as many questions as it answered, particularly in light of the chemists in Alberta forming a professional association.

CSC president Bryan Henry points out that there are three professional chemist societies in Canada -- Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. Only one society, Quebec, controls the right to practise. It should be noted that CSC membership in these three provinces is more than 3,000 people or about 75% of the total CSC membership.

What does this mean for the CSC? The answer is another problem. No one really seems to know. There has been no clear CSC position enunciated in the past and the position is evolving. CSC leadership is preoccupied with the current restructuring of the CIC and must also deal with declining membership.

One fear that has been expressed is that if an individual is given the choice between joining an association where membership is mandatory and one where it is voluntary, it is no option.

However, this can raise another question: What constitutes practising chemistry? Does this include teaching? How mandatory is mandatory in reality?

Why not join both? With the state of today's economy and the tightness of money, this is wishful thinking for most. One of the questions the CSC must ask itself -- and provide a clear answer -- is why should a chemist join the CSC.

The crux of the issue is the benefits available to the individual and advancing the cause of the profession. What services can be offered so that the advantages of belonging to both societies are clear? How can one society complement the other?

We took a straw poll of the CSC board of directors. The following paragraph by Bryan Henry was circulated to CSC board members.

"Recently there has been a great deal of interest in the creation of professional societies to represent chemists. The aim of at least some of these societies has been a movement towards licensure such has occurred in the province of Quebec. Historically, the CIC and CSC have been sympathetic towards the development of such societies. For example, the Association of Chemical Professionals of Ontario (ACPO) was formed with the active involvement of the CIC. (After ACPO's formation, the CIC national office collected membership dues for all ACPO members, later just for CIC members of ACPO. When ACPO started a newsletter, it was published from CIC national office.)

"Our position in the CSC is one of cooperation and accommodation. In the best of all possible worlds we would develop liaison and co-operation with professional societies so that the needs of chemists can be met in an optimal fashion. It appears to us that the CSC, on one hand, and professional societies, on the other hand, offer different services to chemists. Our position is that we should identify these different areas of service responsibility and where overlap occurs, we should co-operate. Clearly the identification of areas of co-operation and the method of such co-operation will require interactive consultations. It is our position that we are firmly committed to such consultations."

One board member felt that Henry was being a bit negative, perhaps reflecting the frustration in trying to meet and consult with the professional bodies. "I think CSC's position should be very firmly that Canadian chemists need BOTH, and that the two organizations deal with very different areas.

"Professional societies deal with chemists' professional status under provincial law, possible working conditions, etc. The CSC represents chemists' interests as a group in the federal and provincial arenas, as well as promoting the various scientific disciplines involved. The CSC thus talks to the major research granting agencies etc, as well as those concerned with patents, trade, tariffs and industrial policy. All of these are important to chemists, as are international and disciplinary relationships."

Tom Swaddle, director responsible for awards, said that he is "dismayed" by the present situation in Canada whereby the right to decide on matters of licensure is given to the provincial governments. "The idea that I, a Canadian citizen of some 20 years' standing, might soon be licensed to practice as a professional chemist in Alberta, but not in Ontario is ludicrous.

"Licensure should be the prerogative of the appropriate Canadian national body. For us, that's the CIC (acting through its Constituent Societies). The CSC already performs the important professional function of accreditation of university programs in chemistry in connection with its own membership requirements; formalization of such accreditation-based membership as professional status would be the obvious forward step, were our national political structure to permit it.

"If we have to have provincial licensure, then could the Constituent Societies and the various licensing bodies at least get together and accept a common national standard of professional accreditation? As far as professional qualifications in chemistry are concerned, the CSC already has this in hand."

It is hoped the first step towards finding the common ground will be held in February at the CIC business meetings. Attempts are underway to have representatives from the existing three professional associations and the CSC meet together for the first time. The door is open.
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Author:Rodden, Graeme
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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