Support workers: invest in yourself

CPD advice on meeting the needs of physiotherapy support workers

CPD: support workers invest in yourself

I know many of you - particularly our associate members - are constantly on the lookout for continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities for support workers and will be drawn into reading this article in the hope of finding some clinical knowledge content or signposting to courses. 

Two of the most common questions to us at the CSP in relation to support workers are ‘where are the courses for support workers?’ and ‘what should support workers do to develop in practice?’ We know that members search for traditional opportunities for professional development by looking for courses or books and articles, hopeful that new theoretical knowledge or practical skills will help them to offer more to patients and progress in their career. Courses and texts of course have a place in CPD and we know there needs to be more for our support worker workforce, but when the ideal course or text can’t be found support workers feel a sense of ‘there’s nothing out there for me’.

Learning from doing

I challenge anyone with experience in clinical practice not to be able to recall that one patient or situation that sticks firmly in your mind that likely changed the way you worked afterwards, or altered how you approached and managed the next tricky situation. Frequently the richest and most powerful learning can be found right in front of us every day in our experiences - good and not so good - with our patients, colleagues and in the situations we face. But in order to use these experiences to grow, develop and improve in our practice and careers two critical ingredients are needed: reflection and the time out to undertake it. The former is simply not as effective without the latter.

My intention in this special learners’ edition of Frontline is to appeal to associate members who are support workers and those responsible in practice for support workers’ learning and development to challenge your perceptions of ‘CPD opportunities’. I want to highlight that there’s plenty of learning to be had out there but to benefit from it you need to be open to the value of different methods, and be mindful of the entitlement of support workers to access the time and support to undertake them. Over the next few pages I’m going to highlight the power of reflection as a CPD activity and the value of taking time out to commit to it.  

Reflecting as an individual  

Several years ago when I was working as a clinician in the community, the physiotherapy records of a patient I was treating were requested by senior colleagues and were examined as part of an investigation of a serious clinical incident. It was a horrible moment and inevitably I began to question everything I’d done, said and documented. Could my actions and decisions in any way have contributed to the harm of a patient? The investigation concluded that my input with the patient and the standard of my care did not contribute to the incident. 

It would have been easy to feel relief at this outcome, satisfied that the harm caused was not a result of my practice and that not needing to do anything differently going forward, I could move swiftly on. But I didn’t: I reflected. I didn’t reflect in the way that it’s easy to become accustomed to, mulling things over in the shower or during the drive to work, I took dedicated CPD time out of my day. I looked back at all my records, chatted about the experience with peers and spoke with the patient and his family. I then drew this experience of looking back into a reflection note using CSP resources. This helped me to take stock of what I’d learned from the situation. I am in no doubt (even though I wasn’t tasked to put actions in place or do things differently) that I changed my practice and developed as a clinician as a result of the experience of the clinical incident investigation and committing time after to think deeply about my patients and the practitioner I wanted to be. I became more holistic as a result and more considerate of my role supporting other health and care professionals. No course or text book could have facilitated this outcome.

Reflecting with peers

A number of years later when, as a therapy lead in an acute hospital I was tasked with implementing a new interdisciplinary service in our acute medical unit, I called upon further positive experiences of taking time out to reflect and I introduced this as a dedicated activity to our developing team. Our daily team ‘huddles’ were time to sit down together and reflect. We took time away from the intensity, pace and challenge of the acute medical unit to do this. We used these huddles to discuss patients but mostly we would think about and talk through our experiences, good and not so good, including the challenges of working as a new team with new responsibilities, different ways of working and in a new clinical environment. It was priceless and key to our development and the safety of our patients. For me, as a leader, the most fascinating insight to emerge from this daily practice was the attitude of staff in other teams to our collective time out. Our huddles were viewed by others as at worst, a completely inappropriate use of our time, to at best, an indulgence or luxury. Interestingly, if I veiled this time as teaching or training that felt okay for others. 

Reflection and time out to reflect as a vital CPD activity

It struck me then and still does how little we might appreciate the value of reflection to our learning and development and how little attention we might pay to the time out we need to commit to it. I’m therefore really pleased to see the new joint statement from the regulators of health and care professionals outlining the benefits of reflective practice

As a support worker reading this statement you may feel exasperated that once again there is a supportive document that is overtly directed at the registered workforce. However, everything in this statement is applicable to you. Meeting your learning and development through taking time out to reflect is of equal importance.

Of additional significance is the recently published Principles for CPD and Lifelong Learning in Health and Social Care. This document is applicable across the UK and – pleasingly – is intended for practitioners at all grades and in all roles. 

Still looking for some CPD? Why not try a combination?

Our South East Coast Network is hosting a support worker event on 3 October at the Holiday Inn in Gatwick. This event is for associate members who are support workers who are encouraged to bring along a support worker non-member and managers of support workers. You’ll hear from CEO Karen Middleton on the future of the physiotherapy workforce and the critical value of support workers; learn about innovative support workers roles and the latest development opportunities in England; network and learn from each other and enhance your knowledge and understanding of exercise physiology and behaviour modification as experts join us to speak on these two subjects. See the advert on the Networks pages or contact  

In a nutshell – what do these documents say and what does this mean for you?

Benefits of becoming a reflective practitioner

  • Any experience provides an opportunity to reflect and learn – you are surrounded by CPD opportunities in practice. Look beyond time out for courses or study days
  • Systematic and structured approaches to reflection provide a better learning outcome – it is ok and necessary to take time out to engage in reflection, better still record it and look back at your experiences and feelings at the time to deepen the learning  
  • Reflecting in groups, teams and multi-professional settings is an excellent way to help develop ideas or actions that can improve practice – your role is integral to services and you should be afforded the same ‘time out’ as others to discuss practice 

CPD principles for lifelong learning

  • CPD and lifelong learning should be each person’s responsibility and be made possible and supported by your employer – you have a responsibility to engage in CPD and identify your learning and development needs. Your employer should support you in this and ensure you have access to the opportunities and time to commit to the regular CPD that has been agreed 
  • CPD and lifelong learning should benefit service users and service improvement; it should be balanced and relevant to your practice and employment; should be recorded and show the effect on your practice – this is a considerable but justifiable ‘ask’ of us all and highlights the critical importance of being supported with time out to attend to agreed learning and development needs.  

How to use this information

Take a look at our more detailed advice on the website to help you formalise reflection as a CPD activity 

Review your personal development plan. Have you captured reflection and the time to undertake it as a way to meet some of your CPD needs? Be prepared to show evidence of your reflections and how you have learned from experiences to improve care. We have several tools to support this process   

Why not take the lead in organising some team reflection sessions? Support workers are frequently great leaders and it is well within the scope of most support worker roles to lead and support learning and development activities, in fact organising and leading a team reflection activity is in itself CPD!

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