Medical training class depicting education in the health sector

The benefits of lifelong learning and education in the health sector

Health care professionals train for many years so that they can make incredible things happen on a daily basis. To ensure individuals in the sector can adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of health care, one of the primary methods of ensuring knowledge and skills are always up to date is with Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Bolstering academic qualifications with ongoing vocational or skills-based education is pivotal in meeting the needs of patients through the development and improvement of skills, knowledge, and competencies. This is not just a positive outcome for society but for the individual, too, as a record of CPD provides a significant competitive advantage in employability. However, this is not without its challenges. We sat down with experts from Northumbria University and TyneHealth GP Federation to discuss further the current landscape of CPD in the health sector.

Dr Daniel Monk

Reflecting on the challenges and barriers to CPD, Dr Daniel Monk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Nursing, Midwifery & Health at Northumbria University, said: “What we are seeing in the sector is a variety of issues of varying complexity. CPD is generally undertaken in the staff’s own time, so work-life balance becomes challenging. Staff are also increasingly disenchanted, often feeling undervalued and overworked. Hours are long, pay can be low, meaning healthcare professionals are increasingly lacking the time or motivation to undertake the additional challenge of ongoing learning which is an integral part of career progression.

“We also see a lack of understanding about the value of CPD, as well as limited access to funding. Clinical staff sometimes don’t fully appreciate the association between the clinical face to face aspect of the delivery of health care, and the research, education and leadership elements that underpin and work within it.”

Dr Emma Senior

Dr Emma Senior, also Assistant Professor in the Department of Nursing, Midwifery & Health at Northumbria University, agreed that time and funding are two of the biggest barriers to practitioners accessing CPD but highlighted that funding challenges vary across the sector.

She said: “For health care practitioners in areas like prisons, primary care and hospices, the funding pot is much smaller. £1,000 per person for three years is not unusual and equates to one module, which when in a framework delivery is extremely problematic and limiting for all involved.” 

Looking at the main benefits of pursuing CPD in the sector, Emma added: “CPD improves the quality of care and maintains the use of contemporary evidence-based practice to inform care. It builds a workforce that is responsive to the changing needs in care and the treatment provided which can be critical to staff recruitment and retention. It is important that we collectively recognise the benefits and work towards ensuring staff have the time and support they need to undertake, and thrive on, lifelong learning.”

Dr Daniel Monk agreed and takes a person-centric view: “The main benefit is a sense of personal achievement; it is an underpinning and demonstration of the knowledge, experience and quality of those who work in care. It ultimately improves care by increasing confidence in patients and practitioners. This improves life outside of work and leads to greater staff motivation, satisfaction and retention too.”

So, how can Northumbria University support the sector to achieve this? Kristy Butters, Senior Nurse at TyneHealth GP Federation, has worked with the team at Northumbria University. She said: “Northumbria University supported us to demonstrate a clear educational pathway for postgraduates at all levels; staff can now see how they are able to get from where they are currently to where they wish to be. We have worked with Northumbria to successfully upskill our staff, meaning we now have a more efficient and effective team in place. Many are now on a pathway to top up their qualification, leading to a more skilled workforce."

Reflecting on the experience of TyneHealth GP Federation, Dr Daniel Monk added: “How we work with health care organisations is constantly under review. Our staff are experts in their fields, up to date in their expertise, innovative with their teaching and responsive to the needs of students. But, perhaps most importantly, our leadership team is in constant communication with health care provisions both locally and nationally.

“We genuinely care about the future of the sector and want to help in any way we can, so it’s great to hear positive feedback from partners who have experienced the collaborative role we can play in developing their workforce and supporting lifelong learning.”

To find out more about the CPD, education, training and apprenticeship programmes Northumbria University offers, visit: www.northumbria.ac.uk/health-and-social-care

Image credit: iStock

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