Tommy Boone, PhD, MPH, MA, FASEP, EPC
An Essay on Professionalism and Exercise Physiology for Students
Tommy Boone, PhD, MPH, FASEP, EPC
Professor and Chair
Department of Exercise Physiology
The College of St. Scholastica
Duluth, MN 5811
BECAUSE EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY is a profession and exercise physiologists
are professionals, it is important to have a clear understand of what “professionalism”
means. As a student in exercise physiology, you will be encouraged
to think about the general principles that underpin professionalism and
what it means to be a professional. This article outlines several
important points about professionalism. For additional information
about professionalism and ethics in exercise physiology, refer to the following
• Strategies to Teach Exercise Physiology Professionalism 
Professionalism and ASEP
• The Passionate Pursuit of Professionalism: A Critical Analysis 
• Cultivating the Values of Professionalism: A Professor's Point of
• Are We Teaching Professionalism 
• Exercise Physiology Power: Professionalism 
Professions have their own code of ethics. The American Society
of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) has an agreed upon code of ethics .
Members of ASEP are expected to abide by the code. They are obligated
to do what is right on behalf of their clients, the public, and the profession.
They are required to make a life-long commitment to learning, fairness,
and truthfulness. Professionalism is not a game to the ASEP leadership.
It is an immensely valuable part of the 21st century exercise physiologist’s
role in healthcare. In fact, exercise physiologists cannot succeed
without it. Deception catches up with those try.
Professionalism and Students
Often it comes as news that exercise physiology is a healthcare profession
. Many students think of the academic major in terms of athletics
and exercise. They are not familiar with the need for a code of ethics
or a declaration to society that they are professionals. The idea
that society can hold them accountable for their mistakes is new.
Students are not accustomed to talking about exercise physiology and a
scope of practice . Professors are part of the problem.
They seldom ever speak about competence and professionalism. When
they do, it is often times about non-exercise physiology certifications.
Certification as an exercise physiologist is a new concept. This
means that students are not aware of the differences in certifications
from one organization to the next.
The problem is that too few students and exercise physiologists understand
the need for high ethical and moral standards. Talking about honesty
and integrity is not the same as talking about jumping higher and running
faster. Hence, instructing students and exercise physiologists on
the subject of professionalism isn’t easy. Some students get it quickly.
Other students throw up a smoke screen. Still others cannot control
their dislike for having to subject themselves to unworthy topics like
who is a professional and what is professionalism. They would rather
do something else. Commitment to advancing the field, putting clients
first, and reporting unethical behavior by colleagues doesn’t seems to
interest them. These same students are part of the problem.
One could get the impression that if talking about professionalism is
a waste of time, then, arrogance and cheating must be okay. Is this
why cheating is such a problem in academics? Perhaps, students would
even agree that it also okay to misrepresent credentials, certifications,
education, and training. Clearly, if it were true, then: “Houston,
there is a problem.” The point here is that professionalism cannot
be assumed, and raising the awareness of professionalism within exercise
physiology is a responsible and necessary thing to do.
“The professional exercise physiologist has an attitude of
respect and accountability to clients, colleagues, and society.” – Tommy
Professionalism and Academics
While every established healthcare profession has courses in professionalism
and professional development, exercise physiology has been profoundly slow
in talking about altruism, accountability, duty, service, integrity, honor,
and respect. While it is true that the cornerstone of exercise physiology
is research, it isn’t enough. Leaders of other professional organizations
understand the importance of striving for the highest standards of excellence
in their practice. Do not imagine that exercise physiologists can
get away with not finding time to integrate professionalism into all aspects
of exercise physiology.
Remember: The essence of professional development
is the evolution of professional thinking that demonstrates the credibility
of those who share the same vision and mission. Imagine what the
quality of healthcare could be with exercise physiologists as part of the
network of healthcare professionals. Fortunately, the academic groundwork
has been laid but much more work is required.
Professionalism and Imperatives
Exercise physiologists are in position to obtain a leadership role
in the use of “exercise” in healthcare . The willingness to rise
to the occasion, to abide by a code of ethics, and to embrace behaviors
that demonstrate commitment to excellence is imperative. The ASEP
exercise physiologists are obligated to set an example for both their colleagues
and clients. They must speak up when questionable behavior is believed
as okay. They must accept that they are accountable to the profession
for adhering to ethical standards.
For example, colleagues who believe it is okay to encourage athletes
to use performance-enhancing substances no longer have a free ride to do
as they please . They can be (and will be) held accountable for
their actions. The best interest of others, rather than self-interest,
must be at the forefront of any profession. Altruism is the backbone
of professionalism. Also, being fair and honesty are important as
is avoiding conflicts of interest. At no time should personal gain
take precedent over the best interest of the profession.
Professionalism and Challenges
One significant challenge to professionalism is specialization (such
as sports nutrition and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation). It has contributed
to a decrease in shared thinking and beliefs . It has also set
the stage for building on one’s self-interest, which has the influence
of triggering competition among colleagues. Another challenge is
the pressure on college professors to publish and attend national meetings
. Lost from many classrooms is the professor! Today, all
across the university system, the professor either does not want to teach
or does not have the time to prepare properly for course lectures.
The deprofessionalism of exercise physiology carries over to students.
They notice the conduct of their professors. This is how they learn
behaviors – good or bad. If they see their professors acting as though
money is everything, then it will influence their thinking. Still
another challenge is that within exercise physiology there are no courses
that teach professionalism. Students do not have the opportunity
for self-reflection because professionalism is not valued in exercise physiology
at the present time. If it were considered important, there would
be a “professional development of exercise physiology” course in the curriculum
Professionalism and Trust
When coupled with the absence of a code of ethics before the founding
of ASEP, it is understandable why the public may not think of exercise
physiology as a healthcare profession. This is a critical point because
the public grants the status of “profession” . This is one very
important reason why the academic study of professionalism is important.
If exercise physiologists are to earn the trust of society, professionalism
must be taught. Several components to consider are:
Professionalism is the trust between exercise physiologists and society.
To be a professional means that society knows that exercise physiologists
have placed the interests of others before their own. Students need
this understanding. Professors must help students to the same understanding
as well. They need to share with the students that the principles
that underpin strength training aren’t enough to build a profession.
The thought that it is enough to take courses without a professional vision,
without knowing the importance of competence and integrity, and without
constantly reaffirming exercise physiology professionalism is embedded
in decades of failed logic. Indeed, the ASEP leadership is constantly
aware of the political and market forces of the academic gatekeepers who
appear committed to a failed logic .
Exercise physiologists should document the absence of professional topics
in the curriculum and, then, they should develop a plan to correct it.
That for exercise physiology to be accepted by society as a profession,
members must demonstrate that the delivery of treatment services in health
and wellness, fitness, rehabilitation, and athletics is credible.
Exercise physiologists must come to an understanding of the importance
of a professional code of ethics.
That the exercise physiologists’ scope of practice must be based on the
components of professionalism.
Exercise physiologists should write and agree on a “professionalism of
Professionalism and Professional Development
Physical therapists understand the role of professionalism in their
field , and they have written about it for a long time .
Exercise physiologists, both individually and through the American Society
of Exercise Physiologists, must take responsibility for creating and
maintaining professionalism in exercise physiology. Working together,
members can reduce barriers to professionalism. They can help bring
together a fragmented profession, especially in regards to the ongoing
struggle regarding who can call him- or herself an exercise physiologist.
My own view is that the political differences and professional struggles
are less diverse within the ASEP organization. However, the battlefield
outside the organization is a widespread “carry over” from the past five
decades of failure by administrators and the faculty to update the diverse
academic degree programs. The fact that the coursework in these academic
majors is essentially the same as a degree in physical education is a concern.
To insure change in professional development consistent with the ASEP
vision, exercise physiologists must exhibit the following attitudes :
Willingness to plan for the future. The willingness
to develop a strategy (to plan for the future) is a powerful attitude.
For those who exhibit it, they are the serious ones. They are willing
to face the illusion of change by non-exercise physiologists. They
understand the deception that has created the illusion of meaningful action.
What exercise physiologists urgently need, therefore, is not a new con,
but a willingness to plan for professional development.
Open-mindedness to consider new ideas. It’s hard to
imagine a more demoralizing condition than a closed-mind. The depressing
reality underscored by our academic gatekeepers is that today’s lack of
an accredited program of exercise physiologists is a sideshow. Open-mindedness
to the ASEP vision and initiatives can no longer be ignored. The
best estimate is that the members of every established healthcare profession
have understood for decades the importance of considering new and sustainable
Diligent persistence. Simple as it sounds, persistence
isn’t as radical as it might be considered. The last person who is
likely to be successful is the first one who gives in. This is true
for organizations, too. To be sure, the ASEP leadership understands
the power in diligent persistence. They’re all about staying the
course. It is also the right thing to do, and they’re wasting little
time getting rid of the endless stream of hoaxes that sours professional
development. This is best illustrated by the work of the members
of the Board of Accreditation and the work they have done.
Learn from mistakes. Exercise physiologists must learn
from their past mistakes. If they choose not to, then they are truly
as dumb as the day is long. Those who fail to get it, those who say
“no” to ASEP, and those who organize their thinking primarily around economic
goals cannot earn the respect of good men and women. The more reasonable
view is that mistakes are inevitable, but an endless series of failing
to learn from mistakes is simply unwise if not hypocrisy. The reality
dawning is that exercise physiologists need the American Society of
Exercise Physiologists to tackle the challenges that accompany the
growing pains of exercise physiologists.
Consensus seeking. It is insanity if exercise physiologists
continue to pledge honor to non-exercise physiology organizations.
This kind of political logic is not the consensus seeking that will benefit
exercise physiology. In fact, it is a mockery of the “professional
imperatives” that underpin established professions. Ordinarily, this
would not be such a problem except for the future of the students who have
grown to believe in the value of an education. While this disconnect
can never be eliminated entirely, the bedrock of change begins with consensus
seeking among exercise physiologists.
Academic exercise physiologists need to stop their research or other
activities and take note of the time-honored imperatives of professionalism.
Students and teachers together need to embrace a new understanding of “what
is exercise physiology” and “who is an exercise physiologist.”
The disingenuous rhetoric to swap “exercise professional” or a “personal
trainer” title for “exercise physiologist” is simply untenable. The
trade-off is huge. The moral of this brief essay is there’s a better
path to hope for. The facts support the realities of the ASEP organization.
The professionalism door is open.
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