Challenges in the quest for professional development and continuing education

Practitioners' motivation for undertaking continuing professional development 'CPD' and continuing education activities varies. Inevitably part of this pursuit is to fulfill the ongoing requirements of professional accreditation and certifications. Equally, for the majority there is also a genuine wish to improve practice and, perhaps to a lesser extent, their knowledge and understanding of various topics (more on that later).

For those seeking to develop their skills and knowledge the process of selecting which resources to buy and what courses and workshops to attend can be a challenge. In many instances CPD courses, workshops, online quizzes and even books are 'endorsed' to earn credits with respective professional bodies (ACSM, NATA, NSCA to name a few). Whilst this accreditation process offers some reassurance on the content delivered, in reality in many instances this process is largely about the provider paying the fee. Moreover many professional and regulatory bodies which make no distinction between CPD activities so that all are essentially treated as equal. In this case there is effectively no quality control at all from 'above' so that the onus once more rests with the individual practitioner to assess the rigour and merit of the many CPD courses, workshops etc on offer.

Continuing education is another area where practitioners face challenges. Often when tertiary education ends so does the practitioners' free access to academic journals. This is clearly unfortunate as post qualification is the time when practitioners arguably most need journal access. There are some very good online resources that the practitioner can use to stay up to date with the research literature - PubMed and the like - and social media such as twitter can be used very effective in this way. Nevertheless most often road blocks will still arise when trying to access the full content. The costs of subscribing to multiple journals is prohibitive, and whilst prominent journals are offering more open access content the cost of buying or renting single publications can be considerable and soon escalates. 


So what is the solution? For those with the time there are a variety of sources of information that are available online and free to access. Indeed when exploring online and other sources via social media there is such a massive volume of content  available in the information age that the challenge becomes one of filtering. Without the peer-review process, and no requirement for the author to declare interests, once more it comes down to the individual to make a subjective value judgement on both the content and the source. Clearly this can be something of a minefield, particularly for less experienced practitioners and those who don't have extensive knowledge in the particular area.

warning sign.png

For these reasons the energy and financial costs involved with continuing education can become too much, and many would rather invest their time and money in something they can use in their practice. Most often this involves attending workshops and courses where they can learn practical techniques. Yet here too healthy skepticism can be an important ally: the reality is that many of these events are run with the purpose of promoting a brand and selling product. There are numerous examples of this, particularly in the performance therapy field, but also in more established branches of physiotherapy and sports medicine. The reality is that marketing and promotion often drives practice, arguably more so than empirical evidence. Most practitioners can readily call to mind examples of products and practices that were popularised in this way, and later found to have little or no scientific merit.

Evidence-led practice requires that practitioners invest the time and embrace these challenges in order to become better informed. So go forth, but do so armed with a filter and healthy dose of skepticism to hand!