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A profession is a specialized work function within society, generally performed by a professional.

In a more restrictive sense, profession often refers specifically to fields that require extensive study and mastery of specialized knowledge, such as law, medicine, the military, nursing, the clergy or engineering. In this sense, profession is contrasted with occupation, which refers generally to the nature of a person's employment.

Terms such as occupational serve the purpose of upholding the distinction between professionals and others who for their living are dependent on their work rather than on their economic wealth. Such usage avoids the confusion caused by vague usage of the words professional and professionalism to express prestige, approval or a sense of exclusivity.

Sociologists have been known to define professionalism as organised exclusivity along guild lines, much in the sense that George Bernard Shaw characterised all professions as "conspiracies against the laity".

A profession is always held by a person, and it is generally that person's way of generating income. Some historians believe that the foundation of modern civilization is division of labour into different professions, thus increasing the level of expertise held by professionals.

The existence of a traceable historical record of notable members of the profession is used as an indicator of a profession. Often, these historic professionals are well-known to laypersons outside the field, for example, Clarence Darrow (law), Edward Jenner (medicine), and Florence Nightingale (nursing).

The distinction between laypersons and professionals denotes the critical aspect of more liberal definitions of a profession: being paid for the work. As such, ball players and movie makers may be professionals, although their work does not fit the strict definition offered above.

See also