CPD: make it meaningful

Guidance on managing and measuring the impact of your continuing professional development (CPD)

CPD Make it meaningful

Like all of you, I keep up to date with policy and resources relevant to my role. One such newly-released publication that made its way to my desk last month was The Principles for Continuing Professional Development and Lifelong Learning in Health and Social Care. Produced by the Interprofessional CPD and Lifelong Learning UK Working Group, it was released in January. The principles are designed to align with the CPD expectations of healthcare regulators and the 20 associated professional bodies, including the CSP. 

The five principles (see box) are neatly aligned to what the CSP already asserts in its CPD position statement and the Code (see useful resources box). This is that professional development is the responsibility of individuals; that employers have a responsibility to enable that development; and that CPD should be flexible and balanced to ensure it meets the needs of individuals and their employers. 

You’ll notice that three of the principles (2, 3 and 5) focus on impact. This may be the impact on your patients/service users, your service or your practice.  Regular readers of this CPD series will know that these are key points that are reiterated in almost every article. These new principles, therefore, make the implicit explicit.

Next month we’ll look at employers’ responsibilities to support CPD, but this month we’re focusing on individuals. And like the new principles, we’re going to focus on the impact of our CPD.

Meaningful engagement

Most of us when we undertake CPD have ourselves in the frame already. In deciding to seek out a mentor, or go on a course, we already have in mind improvements to our practice and we know what needs to change. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into spelling out patient benefit or service improvements. This is particularly so if our focus is our own career trajectory, or simply ‘doing CPD’ to show we’re competent or safe. So, our first port of call is to ensure that our patients and service are front and centre.

Meaningfully engaging in CPD requires personal investment and is challenging. It requires us to critically engage with our practice, to grapple with complexity and/or ambiguity. And it means we must arm ourselves with the ability to bring about change – in ourselves or service for the benefit of patients, all within a system that you or your service can’t be separated from. This needs energy and work. Which means that your starting point must be intentional – you need to find CPD activities that will stretch you and give you the building blocks to achieve this change. And right at the beginning of this process while planning your CPD activities, it is crucial to consider how you will measure this impact.

So, what do we mean by impact?

Impact means different things in different settings which is why it is important for you to define it at the outset. It sounds obvious, but if you haven’t defined what you want to have an impact on, how will you be able show that you’ve achieved your goal? 

Your CPD activities will obviously be contextualised to your own practice, patient group or service, so you’ll need to think about what impact means in this context. To help you unpick this, look at the illustrative example provided. I’ve drawn out some questions that one of my colleagues and I used recently to help them develop their own CPD plan for the coming months.  

The reason for posing so many questions is that there’s no one way to think about impact. Only you will know whether your CPD activities are discrete activities with similarly discrete outcomes, or whether you are embarking on a journey where your planned CPD activities build on each other. If it’s a mixture of both, you’ll have to decide how best to measure impacts independently and cumulatively. 

Measuring impact

Given that you are likely to be undertaking CPD to address a challenge, or an issue that is complex, you’ll need to give careful thought to how you capture evidence of that change. On a positive note, with all the effort you’re putting into this, you’ll be happy to know that you’re only one short step from submitting an abstract or a case study (see ‘Useful resources’ at right). 

I’ve also included a link to a quick summary of ways to measure impact, produced by the University of Leicester. It should serve as a useful reminder of things you already know.  While the linked resource will give you some ideas for starting points, you’ll find resources like this on most university websites. You’ll also find the CSP library is well stocked with books and peer-reviewed articles to get you thinking about qualitative, quantitative and mixed measures. 

Below is an example to help bring this to life. My colleague wanted to measure the immediate but widespread impact of their own behavioural change. She wanted to determine whether, by becoming more confident and challenging, there will be quality improvements across multiple teams and services that, ultimately, will benefit patients. To measure this, they’ll need to think about medium to long-term impact at arm’s length, including finding a way to make causal links and accounting for the impact of other variables outside of their own change in order to know whether it had an impact. That’s a big ask but, as I said earlier, meaningful CPD may not always be easy, but it will be rewarding. 

The five principles

  1. CPD and lifelong learning should be each person’s responsibility and be made possible and supported by your employer 
  2. CPD and lifelong learning should benefit service users 
  3. CPD and lifelong learning should improve the quality of service delivery 
  4. CPD and lifelong learning should be balanced and relevant to each person’s area of practice or employment 
  5. CPD and lifelong learning should be recorded and show the effect on each person’s area of practice 

Theory in practice

I’ve talked previously about the leadership and management development programme I’ve been on for the last two years. Last month was the final session, designed to help us reflect on our growth and plan our next steps. We were partnered with a colleague as a ‘critical friend’ to our plans. My partner’s role is like mine in terms of being a change agent. However, their role is working with services directly, while mine is with the universities. I’d like to thank my colleague for their permission to share.

My colleague is often surrounded by leaders who have significant experience ‘on the ground’ delivering services. They are intimately embedded within the system and understand how things work both politically and systemically. While this experience brings many quantifiable benefits, they don’t always see the need for change. My colleague, sitting outside, can sometimes see opportunities to improve because of a distance from the issues. Their previous attempts to pose questions or challenge have met with resistance, leaving my colleague slightly overawed by the powerful personalities. 

My colleague has already identified the desire to work with a coach (a great CPD choice as it’s an excellent way to tackle a specific issue within a defined period). Our conversation, therefore, quickly moved on to impact and how would they know that they had achieved success?  As we were talking, I asked a series of questions to help tease out both of our understanding. 

  • When you use the term ‘impact’, are you thinking about observable/measurable change? What will that look like? 'They don't always see the need for change'
  • How will you know that it is your behavioural change that has made the difference? Are you narrowing your evaluation to one or two variables, or are you taking an open perspective and looking at all including those that did not come from you?
  • Will the impact be uniform, or will it vary across individuals and/or organisations with different experiences?
  • Will the impact be immediate, one-off or cumulative?  And what might that mean in terms of the observable measurable change?
  • How do you plan to show the size and scale of the impact your change has made? At the level of individual patients, their families, communities, organisations or institutions? Which approach will best help you judge the impact?
  • How direct is the link between the CPD activity (coaching) and your intended impact?  How provable is the causal link you’re making? Is there existing evidence for the links? Is there anything you can learn from these theories/evidence or studies in terms of how best to measure your intended change? 
  • Is there a possibility that impact will occur in unexpected places? How will you take account of this? As we worked through these questions, my colleague was able to test out the best way to measure their impact.

CPD activity

Activity 1:

  • Revisit your CPD plans you made at the end of last year. Are they balanced? Meeting your needs and the needs of your employer? If yes, great, move onto the next activity. If no, then take some time to reframe your plans.

Activity 2: 

How will your CPD activities demonstrate impact?

  • For your own practice?
  • For your patients?
  • For your service?

You might want to consider doing what my colleague did, ask someone else who you trust to pose these types of questions to you. I find it often helps to have someone to test my ideas out with.  


  • What do you want to change?
  • How will you know it has been achieved? – what will change look like? What impact will you see as a result of the proposed changes?
  • How do you plan to measure and evaluate the impact of your CPD activities?

Don’t forget to follow the prompts in the main article and the illustrative example to help you consolidate your ideas.

Make time to outline this plan (as always, the ePortfolio has templates and a free-form journal option that will help you outline your thinking).

    Useful resources

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