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The importance of continuing professional development (CPD)

1 March 2006

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Elaine Guy
AMSPAR Vice President

Hands up those of you who are up to date with your continuing professional development (CPD)? Unfortunately it seems many practice managers just don’t have the time to look after their own needs – they are too busy looking after the needs of the staff and patients, liaising with their GPs and dealing with the 101 other things that cross their desk every day.

But you have to think of your own needs. Just read the Dearing Report, Higher Education in the Learning Society – Report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. This recommends embracing lifelong learning to keep up-to-date with the current and future pace of change. This process of updating throughout life is seen as a reinvestment by the nation in its people and is regarded as a broad-based form of CPD.

The NHS positively encourages its entire workforce to follow a CPD programme. Under Agenda for Change (soon to be set in motion in primary care), staff set development targets each year and pass through pay “gateways” – in each banding, individuals must perform at their peak. How to ensure this? Simple: make sure they, and you, keep CPD up-to-date.

Lifelong learning and its relation to quality are pivotal in the continuous development of any large organisation; none more so than the modern health service. It is essential employers recognise and support the value of properly managed CPD schemes to attract, motivate and retain a workforce of the highest possible calibre.

Supporting employees in their CPD activities may well involve employers in a time lost/cost situation. But what is that cost if an employee is not as competent and up-to-date in their skills as possible? Employers should ensure employees are trained to carry out activities competently. And post-Shipman, perhaps professional competence and accountability are more relevant than ever?

Very few professionals will find the pace of change has not affected them in the past decade or so. Professionals must rely increasingly on their ability to respond rapidly to many factors, not least of which are changes in government policy. This is especially true of the NHS. Everyone is being asked to embrace and respond to change and become innovative in their working practices. This means learning new skills – not an option to be undertaken only by those already keen to update their skills; it must be embraced wholeheartedly by all. Personal development is the key to success for individuals and organisations.

It is no longer acceptable to be complacent about one’s job. In the past there was a culture of “a job for life” – but no more. We now have a portfolio of careers and multiple employers. Careers were once planned by employers, now employees are encouraged to plan their own. Training was seen as a one-off event to learn the job. Now we see lifelong learning and the development of transferable skills.

We at AMSPAR take CPD very seriously. In 2003, we set up our own CPD programme, the AMSPAR Certificate in Continuing Professional Development. To gain the certificate requires the completion of at least 20 hours of relevant CPD over 12 months. Let me reassure those of you who say, “I couldn’t find the time to do that.” At least 90% of the portfolios submitted to us contain evidence of more than 20 hours; many show more than 60 hours. Currently more than 200 people, both our own members and those who are not, have registered to complete their CPD with us, and we have issued nearly 70 certificates.

We find it very encouraging that a number of our members are now completing their third programme. They tell us the effort and concentration needed are most beneficial to them. It gives them the opportunity to sit down and think about what they do every day. Many are shocked to realise just how much they do and how diverse their role is. But CPD isn’t just about attending training courses – it can include reading professional articles, writing articles for publication and serving on committees. Anything that is relevant to your work, that will increase your knowledge and understanding, is acceptable.

For those who find that completing 20 hours’ CPD isn’t enough of a challenge, there is the Advanced Certificate in Continuing Professional Development, launched in 2004. This requires completion of 60 hours’ qualifying CPD over three years, with a mix of core and noncore activities, structured and unstructured. Take-up for this has also been very encouraging.

We recognise that CPD can take many forms and the needs of practice managers are inevitably different. Nevertheless, the rapid and widespread development of useful methodologies necessitates continuing learning. While CPD should principally be the responsibility of the individual, we believe AMSPAR has a responsibility to encourage and assist practice managers to improve the quantity and quality of their CPD programmes.

We’re here to help
AMSPAR believes employers must become more aware of the importance of CPD to practice managers and that time and/or resources must be made available to support it. One AMSPAR resource that practice managers may find useful is our Level 3 Certificate in Medical Terminology for Non-Clinical Professionals. This has recently been accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and other regulators for acceptance into the National Qualifications Framework.

The certificate is the fourth of our qualifications to receive the regulators’ seal of approval, following accreditation of our Level 5 Diploma in Primary Care Management, Advanced Diploma for Medical Secretaries and Intermediate Diploma in Medical Reception. Listing in the National Qualifications Framework means that courses are eligible for public funding – a definite plus point when dealing with budget holders! A number of AMSPAR short courses are available to help with your CPD – just ask us for details or visit our new website at

The AMSPAR level 3 certificate replaces the Certificate in Medical Terminology that was introduced in 1998. Year on year, an increasing number of students have registered for the programme. In the last academic year, a total of 1,254 candidates sat the exam, and an average of 65% were awarded the certificate (the pass mark is 75%), regarded as a benchmark qualification by the medical profession.

The dates for the next exams this year are 9 May and 14 November. Details of this and our CPD programmes are available from We want to help you play your part in improving the health service.

(Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists)
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Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9LN
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