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Are pharmacists actually benefiting from following the formula for CPD?

Recently published data show that pharmacists are meeting standards for continuing professional development, but we ask if they are truly developing as practitioners

By Margaret Culshaw and Roshan Lala

Recently published data show that pharmacists are meeting standards for continuing professional development, but we ask if they are truly developing as practitioners

Margaret Culshaw and Roshan Lala Division of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Huddersfield 

Mandatory recording of continuing professional development is now well established and according to a recent article (PJ 2012;289:124) over 20,000 pharmacists have had their records reviewed, with 99 per cent of these meeting the required standard. It would be reasonable to assume, therefore that mandatory CPD has been effective and that practising pharmacists have met the challenge it presented, resulting in higher standards of practice. This will undoubtedly be reassuring for patients and also comforting for the profession, which faces the further challenge of revalidation assessment for which the principles but not the detail have been agreed (PJ 2012;288:59).

The aim of mandatory CPD was to encourage those pharmacists who were reluctant to take part in education and development to do so, and so the success of the scheme should result in higher standards of practice. The outcome will be more pharmacists reflecting on their activities, then identifying and planning their learning to ensure that they have met their learning needs.

Appraisal skills 

Pharmacists all qualify with skills to enable them to source and appraise information to a high standard as this is fundamental to their degree and so we may expect that these skills are used by pharmacists when undetaking CPD. Pharmacists will review high quality information and be able to critically appraise it to support their particular area of practice. Given the recent rapid changes in information technology and information management it may also be reasonable to infer that, in general, the more recently qualified pharmacists may enjoy a higher level of skills to support their accessing of high quality resources for their CPD.

A recent project undertaken at the University of Huddersfield, set out to assess whether pharmacists thought that CPD supported them in their practice and it produced some interesting results. Many pharmacists considered CPD to be a burden and most were completing CPD activities that could be considered to be essential updating rather than representing genuine professional development.
This was only a small study and the findings may not be representative of a larger sample. However, there are some useful indicators for those who might be involved in promoting or supporting the further development of CPD as to the needs of pharmacists to ensure effective CPD. In addition the results may provide food for thought for others as they plan their own CPD.

Thirty community pharmacists, identified at random and included because they were willing to take part, were interviewed by pharmacy undergraduates and asked to complete a structured interview about their experience and practice of CPD. Twenty-one (70 per cent) had been qualified for less than 10 years so fell into the category who could reasonably be expected to have all the skills needed for ease of information retrieval using, for example, internet access and the ability to conduct a high quality search for information.

Of the 30 pharmacists interviewed, only five (16.6 per cent) claimed to make the required nine CPD entries per year and 17 (57 per cent) routinely completed five or fewer. This indicates that pharmacists make entries when they are asked to submit them rather than this being part of their regular routine. When asked to identify the topic of their most recent CPD activity 16 (53 per cent) mentioned the new medicine service, ie, their CPD was focused on the process of service delivery and the introduction of a new service corresponded to them taking part in CPD. The remaining 14 (47 per cent) all mentioned a service such as medicines use review or emergency hormonal contraception, being a topic they had explored recently while learning about a new product or a change in legal category had been the topic for their most recent CPD.

Further insight into their CPD activities was achieved by asking the participants to list the information sources they were most likely to use in completing their CPD (see Panel). This was asked as an open question so as not to suggest sources to the pharmacists.

INformation sources

Sources used                                                                              No of pharmacists
The Pharmaceutical Journal                                                                        18
Company training packs                                                                             13
Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education resources                               12
General internet search                                                                             12
British National Formulary                                                                           9
Chemist and Druggist                                                                                4
Meetings                                                                                                   4


It was noticeable that those pharmacists who reported completing the most CPD cycles per year were those most likely to be using The Pharmaceutical Journal and the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education resources. Interestingly, of the 30 pharmacists interviewed, none reported accessing other journals, texts or online resources.

Useful contribution

On the positive side, most of the sample (93.3 per cent) reported that CPD made a useful contribution to patient safety and most said that taking part in CPD improved their confidence (63.3 per cent) and knowledge (90.0 per cent). Twenty-four (80 per cent) of the pharmacists surveyed said that they always or sometimes thought that the General Pharmaceutical Council’s requirement for CPD recording was too much or that they struggled to comply.

Since 99 per cent of pharmacists are meeting the standards required by the GPhC, this small survey indicates that some practising pharmacists may be “ticking the box” with regard to CPD and that the standard of activities may frequently be low. Community pharmacists have the skills to develop and expand their roles but may not be using CPD to its intended outcome to support the development of their professional role.

Pharmacy is a demanding profession and this study has shown that pharmacists use information which is readily accessible — either as it drops through their letterbox or is targeted at them — and that which provides essential information for them to deliver their services. The evidence it provides is not of a profession moving forward, but of one merely successfully complying with the demands of its regulator.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11110501

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