Why fellowship? Peak professional bodies, peer recognition and credentialing in Australia

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Background: Professions frequently distinguish themselves from trades or vocations, by creating professional peak bodies. Usually professional peak bodies offer two levels of subscription: membership and fellowship. Fellowship of a peak body is widely considered as offering status and prestige by recognising contribution made to one's profession. Fellowship therefore, often brings with it specific privileges of a symbolic or material nature, or both. Aim: To describe the criteria for eligibility for fellowship; the perceived benefits of fellowship to individuals from the organisations’ viewpoint; the process of obtaining and maintaining fellowship across a range of professional peak bodies; and to apply the outcomes from the survey to nursing professional peak bodies. Method: A telephone survey of 25 professional organisations representing a range of disciplines and industries in Australia was conducted. Each organisation was telephoned and the manager responsible for membership was invited to participate in a 10-min telephone survey. Results: Of the 25 organisations approached, 24 agreed to participate (response rate 96%). For six (25%) of these participating organisations, membership was exclusively limited to nurses and/or midwives. Fellowship was offered in 22 organisations (92%). Significant professional experience (73%) was the most frequently cited criterion for fellowship. Professional leadership/contribution to the profession was listed by less than half (45%) organisations surveyed. Over half (55%) of those organisations that offered fellowship programs also were credentialing bodies. The main benefit of fellowship reported was the prospect of peer recognition and higher professional standing (77%). Discussion: The majority of organisations reported offering fellowship status and all had criteria for fellowship. The most frequently cited criteria were, however, based on longevity in the profession and continued financial membership rather than demonstrated leadership within the profession. There was variability in how fellowship was attained and maintained which may be linked to whether organisations have a credentialing role or not. A more in depth study of fellowship is warranted.

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Journal Article

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