The December editorial in this space was written by Dennis Mouland, and as usual Dennis was right on the mark. He suggested that the surveying profession is misunderstood by the public and reported that “...I have often wondered if many of the public’s misperceptions are the result of our own actions or inactions.” Dennis’ question was rhetorical but I think we will have to agree that we are, indeed, responsible for much of the public’s inability to understand us—not only because of our actions and inactions, but because of the inconsistencies in our perceptions of ourselves.

There are some among us who insist that the only professional surveyor is the one who defines property lines and corners. They rely on the licensing statutes to support this argument forgetting that many if not most statutes include a much wider application of activities as “surveying.” Unfortunately the cadastral-only definition of professional surveying leaves out the engineering surveyor, the geodesist, the GIS specialist, the hydrographer, the topographer, the more esoteric “spatial information management specialist” and others.

Consider the medical profession as an analogy: the surgeon does not insist that the general practitioner is not a medical professional. The radiologist never picks up a scalpel. But, he or she is still a medical professional, as is the chiropodist and oncologist, neither of whom would I employ to do a root canal procedure. Some doctors consult and diagnose; others perform treatment. There is a technician level in the medical profession; some nurses are registered or licensed and some are “practical.” During your next stay in the hospital you will note that it is the nurses and technicians who do most of the observable work during any 24-hour period, but there is no confusion over who the “professionals” are in the medical profession.

The designation “professional” comes not exclusively from licensure. At least one state court has declared that a surveyor is not a professional on the basis of licensure alone. But more to the point, we diminish ourselves and our profession by refusing to recognize all the specialists of our community as professionals. The result is not merely a lasting misperception of surveying by the public. The result also has an impact on the fees surveying practitioners can demand and the salaries they can offer to their employees. (The salary structure is carried into the public employment sector as well, by the way.) Further, our standing among the other professions is affected as is our political clout when legislation appears that could impact our profession. Our professional associations at the state and national level are weakened by our insistence on a narrow definition of “professional surveyor.”

The bottom line is that we can’t be surprised by the public’s confusion over our identity when we persist in our disagreement over who we are, and as is often the case (as Dennis Mouland said in his editorial), are attributable to our own actions, inactions and attitudes.