The 10 Most Ethical Professions

How does the public choose the most ethical professions? It’s based largely on perceived notions of honesty and integrity. Some people form opinions as a result of personal experiences. However, some opinions appear to be based on a hope or an expectation, more so than on personal interactions. The media also play a role in the formation of public opinion. For example, the professions on the least ethical list include members of Congress. But the average American does not interact with their congressman or woman - in fact, most citizens will never meet these individuals. However, the media’s 24-hour coverage of politics tends to negatively affect our views of Congress.

On the other hand, psychiatrists are on this list of the most ethical professions, but the average American has not had a personal experience with these individuals either. However, psychiatrists don’t usually appear in the news for patient confidentiality breaches, and even those in fictitious TV shows are usually portrayed upholding ethical standards. For instance, we’ve probably all seen shows like “Law & Order” or “CSI,” where the psychiatrist refuses to release patient information - even to law officials.

And what about doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, all of whom also made the most ethical professions list? The journal, “American Nurse Today,” states that roughly 1 in 10, or 10% to 15% of nurses may either be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or recovering from the effects of these substances. And the California Medical Board reports that 1 in 5 doctors will develop a drug or alcohol abuse problem. More alarming, a 2013 study in the “Journal of Patient Safety” claims that hospital medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. But this type of information is not widely disseminated by the media, and even if it were, perhaps our medical professionals play such an important role in our lives that we want to and we need to believe that they are not subject to the same ethical lapses as say auto mechanics and used car salesmen.

So keep reading to discover the 10 most ethical professions according to 2013 and 2014 Gallup polls.

10 Psychiatrists


Psychiatrists are considered the 10th most ethical professionals. This group of physicians, numbering over 25,000, is the first medical professionals on the list. They provide a safe place for patients to express their feelings and obtain help for their emotional problems. And because most psychiatrists can be trusted to provide a safe and sheltering environment where patients and their family members know that their information – which is extremely personal and sometimes embarrassing – will remain confidential and protected from the public, psychiatrists rank high on the list of ethical professionals. Psychiatrists are paid very well, earning a median annual wage of $178,950.

9 Judges

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Judges are at the foundation of our legal system, so it’s important – and reassuring – that most people trust them to act in the best interest of the people. Their fairness and impartiality allow us to have confidence that their rulings are based on a careful deliberation of the law and facts, instead of their own opinions and preferences. And while everyone may not always agree with their rulings, the general consensus is that they operate ethically. There are approximately 28,300 judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates, and they earn a median annual wage of $102,980.

8 Day Care Providers

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 38 percent of children are cared for in an organized day care facility by close to 55,000 day care providers. And since the average day care worker earns $9.04 an hour, you can bet they’re not in it for the money. From feeding kids to changing diapers to using games to teach vocabulary, math, and social skills, these workers are not only honest, but also patient and long-suffering (and apparently, they possess a high level of physical stamina).

7 Military Officers

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Although there have been a few scandals in recent years regarding military officers (most notably David Petraeus, Jeffrey Sinclair, and James Johnson), Americans generally respect and admire military officers. The sacrifices that they make for our freedoms, and the responsibility that they bear for those under their command create a sense of gratitude and appreciation that leads us to hold them in high esteem. Salaries for military officers vary greatly depending on rank, ranging from $34,510 for an O-2 to $118,164 for an O-8. Also, an O-10 with over 20 years of service can make $190,956.

6 Grade School Teachers

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The average person wouldn’t want to be a grade school teacher, but we certainly admire them. These roughly 1,361,000 professionals earn a median annual wage of $53,400, which hardly seems like enough considering what they do every weekday. From figuring out how to teach children from every possible background and attainment level to exercising diplomacy when dealing with parents who believe that their child is perfect, we consider grade school teachers to not only be honest and ethical, but probably on the road to sainthood.

5 Clergy

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While sex scandals among clergy appear to be monthly, if not weekly, these miscreants only represent a small percentage of religious leaders. Most Americans consider members of the clergy to be highly ethical, honest, and dedicated. In fact, a report by NPR found that American priests, ministers, and rabbis are so consumed with serving their members that they have a higher rate of depression, high blood pressure, and obesity than the general population. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, a Protestant pastor over a small congregation has an average yearly salary and housing package of $31,234, but if the church has 1,000 members, the package is closer to $81,234. Catholic priests earn between $21,000 and $26,095, and the Institute says this is amount is much lower because priests don’t have a family to support. The Institute also says Jewish rabbis earn more than the combined packages for Protestant pastors and Catholic priests – but it did not list the actual amount.

4 Police Officers

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There are roughly 780,000 professionals classified as police, detectives and criminal investigators, sheriffs and sheriff’s patrol officers, fish and game wardens, and transit and railroad police. These brave men and women risk life and limb every day when they come to work, and the public acknowledges the dangers of this profession, as well as the dedication to protecting and serving citizens that characterizes police officers. Salaries range from a median annual wage of $48,070 for fish and game wardens to $74,300 for detectives and criminal investigators.

3 Pharmacists

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The 286,400 pharmacists in the U.S. make up the 3rd most ethical profession in Gallup’s poll. And according to Medical News Today, pharmacists fill roughly 4.02 billion prescriptions a year (and yes, that’s billion with a “b”). Whether they work in pharmacies dispensing drugs, or in hospitals where they accompany physicians on rounds and make drug and dosage recommendations, pharmacists are trusted to provide expert information regarding medications, for which they are rewarded with a median annual wage of $116,670.

2 Medical Doctors

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As the top 3 professions on this list prove, Americans place the most trust in those who provide medical care. And while the 691,400 physicians and surgeons in the country may take 2nd place on this list, they top the list of the highest-paying professionals according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries vary and range from $180,850 for general practitioners to $216,760 for obstetricians and gynecologists. Patients literally place their lives in the hands of medical doctors, so it’s befitting that the trust level would be so high.

1  1. Nurses

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From Florence Nightingale to Mary Todd Lincoln to Clara Barton, nurses have always been revered for providing compassionate care to those in need. There are 2,711,500 registered nurses, who earn a median annual wage of $65,470, and 738,400 licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses. who earn a median annual wage of $41,540. These medical professionals are often the first point of contact with patients, and their gentle, caring, and empathetic interactions have rightly earned them the top spot on the list of the most ethical professions.

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