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Reflecting on CPD

How far has Continuing Professional Development (CPD) come in the last 25 years? Alan Wainwright from the IBMS looks to the past. 


It is 25 years since the IBMS Council defined CPD as: “A process of lifelong learning, which enables you to meet the prerequisite knowledge and skill levels that relate to your evolving scope of practice, thereby maintaining competence in your scope of practice as a practitioner in biomedical science” and formalised its approach to CPD with the introduction of a CPD diploma: a comprehensive scheme that allowed members to “have their personal and professional commitment recognised”.

Ten years later, a review in 2002 saw the introduction of a new portfolio, a new credit system and the addition of reflective learning. In 2006, it became a legal requirement for statutory regulation as the HPC (as it was then) introduced CPD standards for continuing registration, thus completing the three pillars of professional regulation: entry qualifications, codes of ethics and CPD.

Biomedical scientists are now required to continually develop themselves and demonstrate they are doing so, it being now recognised that initial qualifications as a one-off activity are no longer a sufficient education and training basis to support career-long competency to practice, or for that matter a guarantee of a career-long professional attitude.


Constantly developing

Scientific theory, technology and practice in biomedical science are constantly developing and biomedical scientists, like many professionals, can argue they have always “just done” CPD through formal education and training activities, observing others, discussing problems, networking and learning from personal practice. Before the introduction of a formal scheme, the Institute supported this by providing opportunities for professional development: networking through local branches, dinners, awards; and dissemination of new development through journals, websites, lectures, workshops. But is this enough?

Active engagement in formal CPD signals a commitment by professionals and their professional bodies that they are “keeping up to date” with the requirements of their practice, with learning experiences that allow professional development and maintenance of professional standards. It should demonstrate standards of knowledge, skills, and competence (fitness to practice) determined by employers and professional or regulatory bodies. It should improve safety and quality of practice and embrace the principles of lifelong learning.

For biomedical scientists, it is the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and Science Council as registration authorities that define the standards for CPD, while the Institute, as with other professional bodies, promotes and supports professional development through its policies and member engagement programmes, the biggest and most successful of which is the biennial Congress.


Institute influence

One question that arises periodically is how much control should the Institute exert? For example, should it be mandatory for membership? Should different grades of membership have different CPD requirements? How should it be assessed? Should members be provided with feedback on their CPD activities? Overwhelmingly, in a recent survey, feedback from members focussed on how members could be supported to meet the requirements of the HCPC and their periodic audit.

The Institute responded positively to this by simplifying the CPD ePortfolio facility that enables members to submit courses for CPD recognition and access them as a recorded CPD activity aligned to the HCPC standards for CPD. Diplomas are automatically awarded when 24 activities (with reflective practice on each one) across a minimum of three categories have been logged. Admittedly, members may not always feel the need, but by being required to reflect on submitted activities this supports the acquisition of recorded evidence that can be used in the CPD profile that is part of the response to the HCPC or Science Council audit. Arguably the Institute processes for CPD are now simpler, more logical and fit for purpose, but how far have we come in the last 25 years?


Embraced by many

Currently, about 25% of members are actively engaged with the Institute’s CPD scheme. This isn’t to say other members are not doing CPD, as evidenced by the widespread number of published CPD activities, and CPD audits always show a good response from biomedical scientists, so clearly individuals are able to evidence their CPD.

However, a presentation on CPD is probably one of the most frequent requests made to the Institute’s education department and there is a perception that members still see CPD as a bit of a mystery, especially the reflective practice element. It is as though the concept of CPD is embraced by many but is not yet understood sufficiently well enough to be embedded fully in our culture.

So how far have we come? I like to think that Russ Allison, as Chairman of the CPD Unit, would be proud that after 25 years the CPD scheme is still going strong and the Institute continues to invest in CPD. I am sure he would fully support how we encourage members to take a more value-added approach to CPD: to focus on learning outcomes and the benefits of these on their ability to practice and the benefits of this to others as a recipient of their services. He would probably also say there is still a long way to go, that we should recognise there are no barriers to CPD other than those in the mind and, most importantly, emphasise that CPD is an expectation of being a professional.

Alan Wainwright is the Executive Head of Education at the IBMS.

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