How lifelong learning for doctors is valued, managed and supported in the UK

What were the key findings? 

  • Lifelong learning, also known as continuous professional development (CPD), is valued by doctors and the organisations they work for. But, they often face barriers when integrating this into their day-to-day practice.
  • Processes for supporting lifelong learning are similar in the four countries of the UK, but differ significantly across primary, secondary and community care. Within secondary and community care, processes can also vary by trust, grade and role.
  • At all levels, doctors are ultimately thought to be responsible and accountable for their own lifelong learning or CPD. Employers, medical royal colleges and appraisers also influence lifelong learning, for example through job planning, mandatory training, setting standards for specific professions and providing courses.
  • The main barrier to lifelong learning was lack of time due to service demands. Other barriers were associated with:
    • the individual – life-stage, whether they work part-time, language barriers and their motivation to learn can all affect their professional development
    • the role they worked in – specialty, associate specialists, locums and self-employed doctors reported facing particular challenges
    • their organisation -  service demands, speciality, culture, location, funding and availability of facilities can all impact lifelong learning.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had some positive effects on doctors’ lifelong learning. It’s increased access to online training, helped improve team working and given some doctors the opportunity to reflect on everyday learning opportunities.

However, the research also found that the pandemic has put strain on doctors’ time, and led to a lack of formal and informal networking and clinical opportunities.

Why did we commission this research?

We have a duty to promote high standards of medical education. This includes doctors’ CPD once they have completed their postgraduate training.

We’ll use the findings to support our work to understand how we can better support doctors’ lifelong learning.

What did the research involve?

  • Rapid evidence review
  • Telephone interviews with 15 experts and stakeholders
  • Telephone interviews with 17 employers and eight GP Partners

Download research

How lifelong learning for doctors is valued, managed and supported in the UK