Is Healthcare Continuing Professional Development a “Real” Profession?

By Audrey E. Shively, MSHSE, MCHES, CHCP, AES Health and Medical Education Consulting

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Merriam-Webster defines “profession” as:

A calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation; a principal calling, vocation or employment; and the whole body of persons engaged in a calling.

As the professional member organization for healthcare CPD professionals, Alliance is helping to strengthen efforts to bring professional recognition to the important role its members play in the healthcare field. A major step in this direction was the acquisition of the National Commission for Certification of CME Professionals, the certifying body for the Certified CME Professional (CCMEP) designation—now called the Certified Healthcare CPD professional (CHCP). This acquisition signaled a commitment on the part of Alliance to bring a strong sense of professionalism to healthcare CPD. However, it’s not only those who hold the CHCP credential who should consider themselves professionals in healthcare CPD; by incorporating the components of a “profession,” Alliance ensures that the entire body of providers are recognized as healthcare CPD professionals.

But what are the characteristics of a “profession,” and can these same characteristics be applied to the healthcare CPD profession?

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Body of Learning

Every profession holds a body of learning upon which members are trained. Our learners have all been trained in a particular field, whether it is medicine, nursing or pharmacy, or perhaps technical training (for allied health professions). The body of learning is established to ensure those who are trained have the knowledge, competence and practical skills to perform their best in their chosen field.

The fields of adult education and continuing professional development are fast-growing, with many advanced degree programs available. In addition, a variety of other fields can serve as prerequisite study for a career in healthcare CPD (i.e., health education and public health, health services administration, business degrees focusing on non-profit management and leadership). Thus, there is a strong body of knowledge that can be brought to the healthcare CPD profession. People with degrees and experience in any of these fields increase the standing of the entire healthcare CPD profession.

Research

A strong research effort, along with a body of learning, helps define a profession. Just as in medicine, the healthcare CPD profession can learn a great deal from timely research that will improve the work that we do. Alliance supports such research through different venues, including its Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions (JCEHP) and the Alliance SQUIRE Tool. JCEHP publishes articles “relevant to the theory and practice of continuing education in the health sciences [in order] to provide thoughtful and practical advice to continuing education practitioners in the development, conduct and evaluation of continuing education programs.” The Alliance SQUIRE Tool helps to standardize the description of quality improvement initiatives to facilitate the “design, detailing and identification of interventions, data collection and analysis.”

Education and Training

As continuing education providers, we know the value and importance of lifelong learning in the health professions. The same holds true for those in the healthcare CPD profession. Relying on the body of knowledge and research agenda, a profession builds its ongoing education and training around a set of competencies. The healthcare CPD profession is no exception. The Alliance has established the National Learning Competencies for this purpose—eight competency areas and several sub-competencies — with performance levels for those new to the profession, experienced in the profession and those with long-term standing in healthcare CPD (i.e., novice, proficient, expert).

Per Alliance:

The Alliance National Learning Competencies are designed to describe the abilities needed for success and to outline a professional development pathway for ACEhp practitioners. Self-assessment and the monitoring of performance in each area will support ACEhp practitioners’ lifelong learning journeys … Based on the National Learning Competencies, [the Alliance Certification for Healthcare CPD Professionals] ensures a high level of competence on the part of the credential holder. 

The more healthcare CPD professionals who acquire and maintain the CHCP designation, the higher the public trust in our abilities to perform our duties at the highest level. 

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Code of Ethics

A true profession requires its members to adhere to a set of ethical standards. We know these exist in a variety of professions including law, business and healthcare. Our learners are guided by a code of ethics from their national associations, as well as their varied medical specialty societies and their healthcare and academic institutions.

Alliance has an established Code of Conduct for all CHCPs. Its first principle sums up what the Code of Conduct stands for: Conduct their business and professional activities with honesty and integrity and respect the inherent worth of all persons. By making this Code of Conduct a requirement for all healthcare CPD professionals—not just CHCPs—Alliance can be the leader in sharing this recognition with the healthcare providers and the public that we serve.

Conclusion

Because there is a body of learning, research, education and training, and a code of ethics, healthcare CPD is a real profession. Furthermore, we all have an obligation to work toward hiring and training the right people to best represent our profession. By holding all of our colleagues to these standards, we will gain the respect and confidence of our constituents—which we richly deserve.

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