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Making personal development affordable, flexible and fun

16 June 2008

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Helping practice managers meet conflicting pressures to train and develop staff while simultaneously maintaining a high-quality surgery and meeting targets has led Smart Practice to develop inhouse training workbooks. The Dispensary Services Quality Scheme competencies in the initial workbook offer the equivalent of three days’ training, reflecting Smart Practice’s goal of providing engaging and cost-effective development.

Practice managers and their teams are operating in the hottest of hotbeds of change; adapting has become a way of life, never knowing from where the next edict or big idea will emerge.

It brings pressure on those responsible for targeting the stretched training budget to have high-quality but cost-effective choices at their disposal. Patients demand excellence and, to deliver it, practices need to adopt the best training and development they can afford.

Sometimes, a traditional classroom training programme is the most appropriate choice and the main decision is about which supplier provides the best value for money.

Out-of-the-practice training has its downsides, however. Providers’ fees and staff travelling are the obvious costs. Taking staff away from their day job, the potential strain on colleagues and the additional cost of temporary cover add to the burden. Allowing more than one member of the team away at a time becomes virtually impossible.

Development workbooks are one solution that offers staff the chance to work at their own pace, when convenient and in a format that is geared specifically to them; learning individually at their desks, at home, or as a group within the practice.

The content is developed from established concepts and thinking, but set firmly in the world of general practice teams, supported by lots of relevant images and written in an easily digestible style. The emphasis is on raising awareness, adding knowledge and encouraging curiosity from trainees in questioning, assessing and recording personal behaviours, motives and emotions.

How learning from a workbook is assimilated and applied is a critical issue. The manager’s role as a coach or supporting mentor is important, and where practice managers take on that role, it is vital they stay in touch with their trainees’ progress through regular reviews. Staff may want to collaborate, which is especially valuable where two or more trainees are studying the same topic.

Where the practice manager is the trainee, Smart Practice can be on hand to provide some of this support and guidance or can put managers in touch with others in the same position. Alternatively, managers may want to use their local networks as self-help groups.

The DSQS (Dispensary Services Quality Scheme) Workbook was the first in the series. Many dispensaries will have met the DSQS technical competencies through NVQs over the last two years, and will now be looking to build on those competencies covering team working, customer service and Health and Safety. The 136-page workbook effectively offers the equivalent of three days’ training in these competencies. It also means that each individual has a reference manual to call their own.

Dr Philip Koopowitz of the Dispensing Doctors’ Association (DDA) describes it as “an easy-to-follow workbook packed with practical exercises that can be completed using day-to-day experience within the dispensary. The requirements of the DSQS for competency assessments and continuing professional development (CPD) for dispensers are more than met by this excellent workbook.”

There is an online assessment on completion of the workbooks, and successful candidates are issued with a Certificate of Competence that may be used for the Quality and Outcomes Framework, DSQS evidence or CPD files.

Conscious of cost pressures on practices, discounts on the DSQS Workbook have been agreed for DDA members. Smart Practice has also teamed up with a major pharmaceutical company that will consider grants of up to 50% of the cost under its medical fellowship scheme by applying to their local account manager. Details of the workbook prices can be found at

Other workbooks cover topics such as Communicating Effectively, Managing Stress, Appraising and Coaching, and Managing Issues and Difficult People. A full development route map can be found at