In order for health workers to provide quality care and meet their communities’ changing health care needs, they must become lifelong learners dedicated to updating their professional knowledge, skills, values, and practice. Continuing professional development (CPD) encompasses all of the activities that health workers undertake—both formal and informal—to maintain, update, develop, and enhance their professional skills, knowledge, and attitudes. CPD is a systematic and ongoing process of education, in-service training, learning, and support activities that build on initial education and training to ensure continuing competence, extend knowledge and skills to new responsibilities or changing roles, and increase personal and professional effectiveness.This technical brief summarizes the literature concerning current best practices and innovative ideas in CPD. It is targeted toward people who run or advise CPD programs.
Formal continuing education
One component of CPD is continuing education or training opportunities held in formal educational environments for professional health workers, such as physicians, nurses, and dentists, as well as allied workers such as dental, laboratory, and pharmaceutical technicians. Formal CPD should focus on “enhancing roles and competencies...and organization of work..., communication, medical ethics, teaching, research and administration” (World Federation for Medical Education [WFME] 2003).
Informal learning and development
While CPD is often achieved through systematic learning opportunities integrated into health facility protocols and on-the-job training, less structured mechanisms for learning and development are also available to health workers. Informal opportunities for learning via spontaneous interactions with colleagues, professional reading, and reflections on one’s own experiences are essential aspects of a health worker’s professional development. These informal opportunities can be heavily influenced by location and working conditions. For example, a health worker in a remote, rural clinic with no other professional colleagues nearby will not have the same opportunities for spontaneous professional dialogue as a peer working in an urban area.