Planning learning and need
The new PLAN quality improvement activity in the RACGP’s QI&CPD Program gives GPs the opportunity to reflect on continuing professional development that will benefit them, their practice and their community.
The good GP, as they say, never stops learning. The RACGP’s Quality Improvement and Continuing Professional Development (QI&CPD) Program is designed to support GPs throughout Australia to provide the best possible care for patients and communities.
‘Since its inception, the RACGP’s QI&CPD Program has always recognised the need for self-reflection to improve the quality of everyday clinical practice by promoting the development and maintenance of general practice skills and lifelong learning,’ RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said.
As part of the RACGP’s dedication to continually evaluate and improve the QI&CPD Program, the upcoming 2017–19 triennium will include an increased focus on reflective learning practices with the introduction of the planning learning and need (PLAN) Category 1 quality improvement (QI) activity.
A mandatory online activity, PLAN is an evidence-based approach to continuing professional development (CPD) that enables GPs to identify significant areas of general practice learning needs. This provides the capacity to structure ongoing learning in accordance with GPs’ personal requirements and the services necessary to meet the evolving needs of their patients and community.
PLAN recognises that learning needs change with many factors, including the evolving nature of general practice and medical care, career history and clinical experience, practice demographics, and significant life events such as leave from practice (eg parental leave).
‘The PLAN activity has been developed to further support GPs on their educational journey by providing improved capacity to structure their ongoing learning,’ Dr Seidel said. ‘This will enable GPs to self-identify priority areas of learning need in accordance with their personal aspirations and needs of their patients and their community.’
Step by step
PLAN has been developed to provide GPs with a user-friendly CPD experience that does not add to their existing workload. The activity is broken into five steps:
- Complete a practice profile and self-assessment
- Review the report generated in the first step
- Identify five key areas for improvement from the report
- Complete activities throughout the triennium that are relevant to the five key areas
- Reflect and plan ahead
According to Dr Janice Bell, GP and Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Post Fellowship Education who was involved in the development of PLAN, its fundamental concepts have been in the works for more than 10 years. The RACGP has used that time to ensure it delivered members the best possible CPD structure in a vital area of the healthcare profession.
‘Education is incredibly important for GPs because it’s not just about making yourself a better doctor; it’s also about keeping the community and patients safe. Education is high stakes for GPs,’ she told Good Practice.
‘Therefore, planning your learning is even more important than any other education endeavour.
‘It’s one thing to say learning plans are a good idea, but it’s quite another to have one that’s easy to use, meaning people will use it and get benefit from it.
‘So while the RACGP could have made PLAN mandatory 10 years ago, we didn’t because we didn’t have a mechanism to make it really user-friendly, and now we do.
‘PLAN is online, it’s very simple to work your way through it, it’s very simple to add in the CPD activities you do that address the different learning areas that you have identified, and you can stop and start at any time without losing your data.’
The timing of PLAN’s implementation is also fortuitous in that it comes shortly after the Medical Board of Australia’s interim paper on revalidation, released in August, which requested that representative healthcare organisations such as the RACGP bolster their professional development strategies.
‘PLAN gives us that strengthened CPD program and that is why we made it compulsory,’ Dr Bell said. ‘Now we know that everyone will be thinking about the education they do in relation to their practice and their performance.’
One of the most important aspects of PLAN is an emphasis on reflective learning.
As GPs’ learning from CPD becomes applied to practice, reflective learning enables them to test how relevant, useful and appropriate their learning is to their everyday practice, and to revise any learning needs accordingly.1
Reflective learning practice requires ongoing observation and evaluation of professional skills and community needs through a process of critical thinking.1
By taking the time to create a practice profile and undertake a self-assessment, PLAN allows GPs to consider what skills are needed beyond those they wish to develop for their own professional aspirations.
‘GPs might even consult their peers as they consider their education needs, and I think that is the most powerful underpinning of the strengthened CPD program,’ Dr Bell said.
‘That’s what the idea of reflection allows. It’s not just a GP sitting there and thinking, “What would I like to do for my CPD?” They can reflect on it and think, “What do my patients need? What does the practice need? What does the community need?”’
PLAN has been designed as an inclusive QI activity in that it allows for participation by people who may have been out of clinical practice, such as those who have taken time away from the profession or been working in a different part of healthcare.
‘You can actually be working in other areas that are related to general practice,’ Dr Bell said. ‘These may include general practice education and training, general practice research or a more specialised part of general practice like GP obstetrics or GP anaesthetics, where you are in clinical work but you are not actually sitting in an office and seeing patients every 15 minutes.
‘General practice is indeed “general”. PLAN invites everyone who is working in a general practice setting to engage back into our profession. So you can still look at your skills and competencies and reflect on those for the job that you are doing now.
‘Or, if you are thinking about getting back into general practice and have been on maternity leave or taken a break for whatever reason, you can still use PLAN to consider what your learning needs will be given the situation you are in in your career.
‘Anyone can sit down and have that conversation with themselves and with their peers, whatever aspect of general practice they are in: on leave, working part-time, working across multiple clinics, working in an area related to general practice.’
A welcome progression
With the topic of revalidation in general practice a continually sensitive one, Dr Bell believes it is important to note that PLAN is not a reaction to that issue.
‘PLAN has been 10 years in the making, so it is not a reactionary activity. It’s just good education practice for which we now have the right technology,’ she said. ‘And it’s timely that we have such a tool at the time that the Medical Board of Australia is saying to colleges like the RACGP that it wants them to strengthen their CPD programs.
‘PLAN is more of a response to the call for greater transparency around how doctors are making sure they are safe for patients in their community.’
Having taken the time to ensure it is in its best possible form, all involved with the development of the PLAN activity believe it represents the GPs who continue to upskill and learn within modern Australian general practice. PLAN’s launch at the recent GP16 annual conference for general practice was a success, with positive feedback from a number of GPs.
‘I have really heard from a lot of GPs that they are ready for this sort of thing,’ Dr Bell said.
‘It’s respectful of the doctors and it’s respectful of the profession in that you don’t just go out and pick whatever turns up, but regard CPD as a professional activity.
‘PLAN is about continuing your professional development, but it is actually also a professional activity and it deserves the rigour and, if you like, the respect of the process as much as anything else that we do as GPs.’
- McCoy R. RACGP QI&CPD Program launch 2017–2019 triennium. Workshop presentation at GP16 – RACGP Annual Conference for General Practice, 30 September 2016.