There are many reasons why doctors and other health professionals may complete professional development training activities.

This can include because they are required to do so by their professional body, due to an interest or a love of learning, or due to a need to maintain skills and competence, and not become stagnant or behind the times in comparison to peers or colleagues. For others, it may be about General practitioners (GP) professional growth and gaining new skills and experience as they are early in their career, and so it’s focussed on enhancing skills for their current role. For others, it may be about the future and where they want their career to progress in five or ten years. Continuing professional development (CPD) is one of the key mechanisms by which high standards of professional practice, relevance and currency of qualifications and experience are maintained (Bernardes, Ratnasekera, Kwon, et al., 2019). Primarily, it is the clinician’s responsibility to update their knowledge and participate in CPD; though it is a mandatory requirement for ongoing registration with the Medical Board of Australia (Bernardes et al., 2019). Yet, it is hoped that the driving force is self-motivation, being aware of a knowledge deficit and being driven to restore or enhance it (Bernardes et al., 2019).  

GPs play a vital role in the Australian healthcare system. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report that GPs were the most common health service professionals accessed by Australians, with more than eight out of ten people (82.8%) seeing their GP within a given year. Further, GPs are increasingly involved in chronic disease management and prevention, needing to make timely and complex decisions for patient care (Bernardes et al., 2019). With this high responsibility comes accountability for not only maintenance, but also building professional knowledge and skills throughout a GP’s professional career. 

Sometimes it can be easy to fall into a bad habit of thinking of CPD requirements as annoying, burdensome, a waste of time or just a tick-the-box exercise that’s done to meet professional requirements rather than for the actual learning. If this sounds like you, it’s likely that you are not getting the most out of your CPD. There are at least four ways to get more out of your CPD.

Plan your Career 

Continuous learning is defined as a self-motivated persistence to acquire knowledge and competencies in order to expand personal skillsets and develop future career opportunities; thus, avoiding stagnation in a career or future-proofing it.  Imagine a map of your career, where you are now and where you’d like to be in 30 years’ time, with yearly or 5-yearly milestones or ‘stops’ along the way. The aim of your professional development should be to manage your learning and growth throughout your career so that you arrive  where you want to, and achieve what you want to achieve, on your career journey. While it is important that you continue to keep your skills and knowledge up to date and ensure you work safely, legally and effectively, you can also plan and map your CPD to meet your career aspirations.  

For example, a professional development plan is a list of actionable steps for achieving career goals. A professional development plan helps you gain specific insight into how you can reach your career aspirations, such as earning a new certification or finding a mentor who can advise and guide you. Planning your CPD enables you to further your career in a strategic manner, rather than completing training or going to seminars in a haphazard way depending on what falls onto your radar at the time. If you don’t currently have a professional development plan, ask yourself the following questions… 

  • What do I love most about my career? 
  • What do I like least about my current role? 
  • What would I like to do more of? 
  • What would I like to be doing in 5 or 10 years? 
  • Where would I like to be in 5 or 10 years? 
  • What do I need to do to get there? 

Developing SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant & timely) learning goals relating to your answers to these questions, and developing a professional development plan (template available here) is one way to get the most out of your CPD. 

Improve personal as well as professional skills 

In addition to clinical knowledge, expectations of healthcare professionals are also changing. Whereas previously technical skills and knowledge were undisputed as the sole hallmarks of medical expertise, more recently attention to a doctor’s professionalism, communication skills and ability to work as part of an interdisciplinary team has increased considerably. Further, research has found that learning, and therefore professional development, is not only good for your professional skills and career development, but also good for improving self-esteem and confidence, and increasing life-satisfaction, optimism and belief in our own abilities. Research has found benefits linked to areas such as improved sleep and health, specifically, brain health. For example, learning new things has been linked to offsetting cognitive decline, and learning difficult new skills in older age has been associated with improved memory. It is also beneficial in improving mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. So, there can be many personal benefits as well as professional benefits to completing CPD. So how can you enhance this? One way is to consider other skills you may wish to enhance, such as interpersonal or ‘soft’ skills; ones that may increase your self-esteem, confidence, life-satisfaction or optimism, as well as being beneficial for your career. Consider improving skills such as: 

  • Time-management and goal-setting 
  • Communication and collaboration 
  • Conflict resolution and negotiation 
  • Management and organisation 
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking 
  • Giving and receiving feedback 
  • Leadership 
  • Supervision and mentoring 

This does not mean that technical skills and knowledge has become less important, but they are now seen as only useful in the context of good professionalism, communication and collaboration. Growth in personal skills can enhance professional skills and lead to career enhancement. So, ask yourself, are there interpersonal or ‘soft’ skills I need to improve in? Using your CPD requirements to meet your personal learning needs is another way to get the most out of your CPD. 

Base your CPD around values and strengths 

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) emphasises the importance of evidence-based CPD to maintain and improve Australian GPs’ professional knowledge and skills in order to provide quality patient care, while also meeting individual doctors’ needs, strengths or preferred learning styles, or work contexts and locations. This means that medical practitioners have the opportunity to self-reflect and direct their own learning according to their values, strengths, self-assessments or feedback they receive from others. Hence, a valuable way to get more out of your CPD is to better understand your values, strengths or areas for development (by asking colleagues for feedback) – identify what they are and include them in your professional development plan. For example, to understand your personal values and strengths, complete the VIA (free) questionnaire here to better understand your character strengths. 

Investment of effort, time and money 

It’s also useful to think about CPD in terms of an investment – the investment of your time, money and effort into your professional career. By thinking of CPD in this way, it focuses your thinking on the potential return on your investment, in terms of career or personal benefits. To apply a ‘return on investment’ mindset to planning your CPD, ask yourself questions such as:   

  • Does this short course/GP education activity meet my learning needs?  
  • Is this short course/ GP education activity relevant to my current work role? 
  • Is this short course/ GP education activity part of my professional development plan? 
  • If not, what benefit / return of investment will I receive? Are there any longer-term benefits? 

If the answer to these questions are ‘no’ or ‘not sure’, then it’s important to carefully consider whether you want to invest your time/money/effort in that particular activity. This ensures you get the most out of your CPD investment.  

Schostak, Davis, Hanson, et al. (2010) state that quality CPD was inextricably linked to improvements in professional practices, with widespread consensus as to the value of learning in professional settings. They emphasised the need to move away from tick-the-box type processes to in-depth identification of individual learning needs and how these can be met.  However, it’s important to stress that gaining knowledge does not necessarily always translate into changed behaviour or improved performance. So when you are considering your CPD requirements in the future, reflect on your personal and professional learning needs, consider your professional development plan and what your goals or learning objectives are, and make the most of your CPD opportunities, ensuring optimal return on investment. 

Dr Sonya Vandergoot 

Organisational Psychologist and Performance Coach, GPEx 


Bernardes CM, Ratnasekera IU, Kwon JH, Somasundaram S, Mitchell G, Shahid S, Meiklejohn J, 

O’Beirne J, Valery PC and Powell E. (2019) Contemporary Educational Interventions for General  Practitioners (GPs) in Primary Care Settings in Australia: A Systematic Literature Review. Front. Public Health 7:176. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2019.00176 

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