Continuing professional development (CPD) for pharmacists
: Implications for professional practice

  • Laura O'Loan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


This study considers the different Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities undertaken by pharmacists and the implications this had for their professional practice. CPD is now mandatory for all UK healthcare professionals, including pharmacists. Pharmacists are required to undertake self-directed, unstructured learning, and can choose what they learn and how they learn it. However, some authors have recommended using a more structured approach for CPD. The purpose of CPD is to improve professional practice, although there is little evidence in the literature to demonstrate this. In this study, improved professional practice for pharmacists was taken to be engagement in extended patient care activities, as this is what is recommended in current healthcare policies in Northern Ireland.

A postpostivitist methodological approach was used in this study. Quantitative data was collected using an online questionnaire which was emailed to all qualified pharmacists in Northern Ireland. A postpositive approach recognises that pharmacists’ responses were subjective and there was not an absolute truth that could be uncovered. Two multiple response sets were created: one for responses regarding CPD activities, and the other for responses relating to professional practices, and this enabled a holistic view of both to be gained. A mathematical method known as geometric coding was then used to convert the multiple response data into categorical variables that were amenable to confirmatory statistical analysis. This allowed the relationship between all the CPD activities that a pharmacist had undertaken and all the professional practices they engaged in to be analysed statistically.

This study found that the professional activities that pharmacists engaged in were influenced by the CPD activities they had undertaken. Unstructured learning was taken to be the baseline educational approach, as this is the minimum requirement stipulated by the pharmacy regulators. Pharmacists who undertook solely unstructured learning had the highest incidence of engagement in semi-professional activities that can be performed by any member of the pharmacy team. Almost a third of these pharmacists engaged in some extended patient care activities. Adopting a cognitive approach to semi-structured or structured learning did not confer any benefits over unstructured learning in this study with regard to extended patient care practice. Conversely, incorporating a constructivist component, whereby learners actively engage in professional practices in the workplace, led to improved participation in extended patient care activities, and was thus considered to enhance pharmacy practice. It was concluded that active engagement in structured professional practices improved the application of learning in the workplace, whereas separating theory from practice did not. However, in this study, some pharmacists who had undertaken learning with a constructivist educational approach were found not to be applying their learning in practice. The reasons for this could possibly have included a lack of opportunity and support in the workplace. Pharmacists’ attitudes about pharmacy practice were also found to have an impact on the professional activities they engaged in. Having an ‘Improve skill mix’ view of pharmacy practice increased the likelihood of doing some extended practice, whilst the likelihood was reduced by having a ‘Maintain current roles’ view. This may suggest that some pharmacists were electing not to engage in extended practices in the workplace. Further study is recommended to explore more fully the reasons why some pharmacists were not applying their learning in practice. This could help to identify and potentially address barriers to implementing extended patient care practice in the future.
Date of AwardJul 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorCaitlin Donnelly (Supervisor) & Karen Kerr (Supervisor)

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