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A professional association (also called a professional body, professional organization, or professional society) is usually a nonprofit organization seeking to further a particular profession, the interests of individuals engaged in that profession and the public interest.
The roles of these professional associations have been variously defined: "A group of people in a learned occupation who are entrusted with maintaining control or oversight of the legitimate practice of the occupation;" also a body acting "to safeguard the public interest;" organizations which "represent the interest of the professional practitioners," and so "act to maintain their own privileged and powerful position as a controlling body."
Many professional bodies are involved in the development and monitoring of professional educational programs, and the updating of skills, and thus perform professional certification to indicate that a person possesses qualifications in the subject area. Sometimes membership of a professional body is synonymous with certification, though not always. Membership of a professional body, as a legal requirement, can in some professions form the primary formal basis for gaining entry to and setting up practice within the profession; see licensure.
As a practical matter, most professional organizations of global scope (see List of professional organizations) are located in the United States. The U.S. has often led the transformation of various occupations into professions, a process described in the academic literature as professionalization.
In countries where the law entitles defendants to a jury of their peers, the general public may not be considered sufficiently knowledgeable in a field of practice to act as a peer in some legal cases. For example, the professional associations do not always concern themselves with licensure or the equivalent or government regulations. In the United States, journalists seek to avoid government involvement in their work or "official" definitions.
Inter-professional associations have been defined as private organizations, recognized by the State, that group together participants from all stages of the same agricultural commodity chain (filière in French), with the objectives of elaborating policies, guaranteeing equity among the members, facilitating the improvement of the performance of the chain and defending the interests of the members. There are around sixty such associations in France and several in Francophone countries of Africa. A particular feature of inter-professional associations is that the membership is made up of associations that represent the individual chain professions. This is in contrast, for example, to commodity associations in the United States where membership is largely of individuals and companies. Many developing countries have few or no associations that cover an entire commodity chain and there would appear scope for the development of such organizations to promote improved liaison with governments.
In the United States, PA (Professional Association), used in conjunction with a business name is a corporation formed by professionals such as barristers, engineers, dentists, and medical doctors. In the past, the so-called "learned professions" were not allowed to operate as corporations. A PA is attractive to professionals because it provides some of the tax advantages and liability protections of a business corporation.