As society, including the medical profession, moves into a new century, the rate of change in the relationship between professions and society is unprecedented. All societies need healers, and in the English-speaking world the services of the physician-healer have been organized around the concept of the professional. The great increase in both state control and corporate involvement has seriously intruded into the traditional autonomy enjoyed by both the medical profession and individual physicians, and further changes can be expected. More physicians are becoming either employees or managers in the state or corporate sector, while others are being forced to compete in a marketplace that rewards entrepreneurial behavior. It is the responsible behavior of the professional that will protect the role of the healer. Medicine has been rightly criticized for placing undue emphasis on both income and power and for protecting incompetent or unethical colleagues; and it has failed to accept responsibility for injustices or inequities in health care systems and has moved slowly to address new diseases or issues. Nonetheless, all evidence indicates that society still values the healer-professional and does not wish to abandon professionalism as a concept--it appears to prefer an independent and knowledgeable professional to deal with its problem rather than the state or a corporation. For this reason, medicine's professional associations and academic institutions must ensure that all physicians understand professionalism and accept its obligations. In doing so, the objective should be to encourage the moral and intellectual growth of physicians by setting standards based on higher aspirations than can or should be enforced. In facing the complex world of our future, such action will both serve society and maintain the integrity of the profession.