Directly Speaking - How Do You Manage Your Own Life-Long Learning?

by Scott A. Meyers, Executive Vice President
November 13, 2015

At the end of October, I had the opportunity to participate in ACPE’s CPE Summit. The Summit was a brief look back at the first 40 years of continuing pharmacy education and then a deep dive into what could be in its future over the next 10-15 years. The Summit drew nearly 60 participants from across the nation, representing boards of pharmacy, CPE providers, national pharmacy leaders and ACPE Board and Commission members. The participants provided a wide range of insights and experiences. The deep dive into the future of CPE identified a concern. How do the attitudes of individual pharmacists impact their participation in CPE?

Every year for many years, graduating pharmacy students take the oath of a pharmacist at some point, usually during the graduation ceremony itself. In that oath is or should be one statement that drives every pharmacist’s attitude toward CPE.

"I promise to devote myself to a lifetime of service to others through the profession of pharmacy. In fulfilling this vow:
  • I will consider the welfare of humanity and relief of suffering my primary concerns.
  • I will apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal outcomes for my patients.
  • I will respect and protect all personal and health information entrusted to me.
  • I will accept the lifelong obligation to improve my professional knowledge and competence.
  • I will hold myself and my colleagues to the highest principles of our profession’s moral, ethical and legal conduct.
  • I will embrace and advocate changes that improve patient care.
  • I will utilize my knowledge, skills, experiences, and values to prepare the next generation of pharmacists.
I take these vows voluntarily with the full realization of the responsibility with which I am entrusted by the public.”

But does this important highlighted bullet point drive pharmacists’ participation in CPE or is it merely the relicensure requirements by state licensing agencies? My guess is, it depends on the individual practitioner. Many of our colleagues “accept the obligation to improve (their) professional knowledge and competence” through not only participating in CPE activities but through the process of CPD (Continuing Professional Development). CPD is a process that directs life-long learning that many seasoned practitioners developed informally, long before it became formal and widely discussed. Perhaps our informal efforts weren’t quite as well organized or documented, but they certainly existed and have guided many pharmacists learning activities for many years.

CPD has been greatly discussed by ACPE providers, its Commission and its Board for several years (probably more than a decade). It has been recognized by many colleges of pharmacy which have taught students to build portfolios of their learning experiences. The North Carolina Board of Pharmacy has even offered CPD as an option for meeting its relicensure procedure. Even ICHP has included CPD tools in its statewide meeting syllabi for several years to help members embrace the formalized concept. And yet many pharmacists still don’t know what we’re talking about when we discuss CPD.

If you really think about CPD, provided you know the details of the process, it is actually a road map for common sense related to learning. To better illustrate this common sense approach, here is ACPE’s diagram of the process:

An important point to mention is that the CPD process above does not only relate to selecting learning activities that provide CPE credit but to a practitioner’s selection of all learning experiences whether it is reviewing the mechanisms of action, indications, dosage, cautions, and contraindications of a newly released medication, becoming familiar with a new procedure or a new technology, or examining the use of an existing medication in a newly published non-approved indication. CPD is the process of organized learning of any sort and is defined by ACPE as “a self-directed, ongoing, systematic and outcomes-focused approach to lifelong learning that is applied into practice.”¹

In the days before CPD formalization, practitioners took most of the steps of CPD but probably failed to record and review as much as they should have. The learning process was organized, identified the practitioner’s learning gaps, selected programs and activities that would fill those gaps and then applied that learning to practice. Simple, straight forward and dedicated to the idea that pharmacy practice can and should always be improved.

At the Summit, the participants believed that CPD should be a key tool in the future of CPE for ACPE. Why, you ask? Continuing Pharmacy Education is under scrutiny by many, the public, government agencies and the legislature because alone, it doesn’t seem to ensure competency. We’ve all seen colleagues sitting in CPE sessions reading newspapers, smart phones, tablets and laptops when they should have been paying attention to the presenters. We also know that people share program codes or post-test answers for live and home-study activities. In addition, lecture based learning activities have a limited way to measure learning and application of learning in the short time they occur.

Relicensure by examination is not a pleasant thought and developing a relicensure examination that would test practitioner competency for the varied ranges of generalists and specialists who now practice pharmacy would be expensive and nearly impossible. So CPD with effective documentation could be the next step to relieve public and governmental concerns.

The good news for many students and new grads is that you know how to do CPD thanks to your College of Pharmacy and the portfolios they made you create. The good news for seasoned practitioners is that you’ve learned a lot of new things since you graduated years ago, so this will just have to be another thing you get to learn and use.

Embracing CPD has become a higher priority for practitioners over the past decade, but we’re a long way from seeing it used profession-wide. From the discussions at the Summit, we could see a push by employers to use CPD to document competencies, one of many requirements of credentialing agencies. It is also possible that progressive Boards of Pharmacy offer CPD as an alternative to the simple CPE requirements. Regardless of these potential developments, as ACPE moves forward with what it learned at the recent CPE Summit, perhaps it will gain traction in more practitioners’ minds and attitudes. My question to you, “How do you manage your own lifelong learning?”

¹ACPE. Continuing Professional Development Presentation.  (accessed 2015 November).

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