Promoting your professional skill/development in Health and Social Care sector

The importance of continuous improvement of knowledge and practice

Continuous improvement of knowledge and practice is an ongoing learning and development process which has a direct and positive impact on the service-users, individual staff, organisation, and the quality of practice and services. Also, it includes any activity that the staff are doing on a day to day basis which increases knowledge, experience and understanding, as well as improves performance at work, thereby contributing to lifelong learning. It has a positive impact on the staff, other professionals and organisations. Continuous improvement of knowledge and practice helps staff to receive a high quality, evidence-based service.

Benefits of continuous improvement of knowledge and practice to the staff/professionals:

  • Improvement of confidence in the delivery of professional service.
  • Promotion and maintenance of competence to practise, particularly as roles and/or services develop.
  • Improvement of satisfaction with work role.
  • Promotion of lifelong learning.
  • Provision of structure and support for the health professional and his or her valued goals.  
  • Enhancement of career opportunities.
  • Enhancement of the status of profession.
  • Promotion of research and evidence-based practice increasing professional recognition.  

Benefits of continuous improvement of knowledge and practice to organisations:

  • Management of knowledge and building a workforce capacity, thereby creating a confident and competent workforce, able to make decisions based on evidence and good practice, share knowledge with colleagues, clients and workers, and innovate and adapt in response to the changing needs of the service and, to achieve training and qualifications requirements.
  • Contributing to meeting the increasing demand for accountability, flexibility and a skilled and competent workforce.
  • Improvement of inter-professional working.
  • Meeting organisational objectives.
  • Improvement of staff motivation and morale.
  • Contribution to Quality Assurance.
  • Provision of stakeholders with evidence of the commitment of the profession to a high-quality service.

Potential barriers to professional development

Potential barriers to professional development occur in different ways; these may include:

Socio-Economic Barriers: These include lack of funding and other educational resources sufficient to meet the professional development’s needs of the society. They can start from inadequate numbers of centres of learning, limited learning facilities, inadequate staffing levels, inadequate basic services which are key to participation in the learning process, inappropriately designed policies and practices within the system. Sometimes, some of these inadequacies may result in increased emotional stress, lack of concentration and a range of other symptoms which affect the ability of learners to engage effectively in the learning process.

Attitudes: Negative and harmful attitudes towards differences among individual learners can be a critical barrier to professional development. Discriminatory attitudes resulting from prejudice against people on the basis of race, class, gender, culture, disability, religion, ability, sexual preference and other characteristics can be significant barriers to professional development when such attitudes are directed towards learners in the education system. This can consequentially result in affected learner(s) being marginalised and, can also perpetuate the failure of the system to change or adapt to meeting the needs of professional development. Further, the concern that people may leave the job after gaining their awards poses a barrier to allowing people from getting on professional courses. Also, fear and lack of confidence in learning, particularly from staff with poor literacy, may hinder such individual from enrolling for professional developmental courses.

Inflexible Curriculum: Inflexible nature of learning curriculum may prevent it from meeting diverse needs among learners. The nature of the curriculum at all phases of education involves a number of components which are all critical in facilitating or undermining effective learning. Lack of flexible local learning provision tailored to workplace needs and provision of assistive devices for learners who require them may impair not only the learning process but also their functional independence, preventing individual learner from interacting with other learners and participating independently in the learning environment.

Lack of Enabling and Protective Legislation and Policy: Failure of legislation or policy to protect learners from discrimination or perpetuate particular inequalities and to provide minimum standards which accommodate diversity allows for individual practices may directly contribute to the existence or maintenance of barriers to professional development, or it may lead to the provision which is inadequate and inappropriate for the needs which exist.

Lack of Human Resource Development Strategies: Fragmentation and unsustainability of the development of educators, service providers and other human resources can serve as barriers to professional development. The absence of on-going in-service training for trainers often leads to insecurity, uncertainty, low self-esteem and lack of innovative practices in the training.

Preparing a professional development plan

(i) Selecting learning opportunities to meet development objectives and reflect personal learning style

There are many sources of support accessible to developing your practice. To develop and improve own practise effectively, maximum use of all the learning opportunities must be employed to gain support, advice and feedback. Chosen learning opportunities to meeting own development objectives and reflect personal learning style include:

Appraisal or supervision system in your workplace:

This directly helps to identify areas of own practice that need to be developed and to plan to use opportunities for training and development. Supervision gives a good opportunity to use the experience and knowledge of own supervisor to help plan how to move forward in own practice. This entails bringing together own reflections on own practice, using examples and case notes where appropriate; being able to demonstrate own practice had been reflected on and areas for development are been identified.

Informal support networks:

These consist of work colleagues who can be major sources of support and assistance. They can provide useful ideas, support for improving practice and provide support when things are wrong. They can organise team meetings regularly to discuss specific situations or problems that have arisen for members of the team and, provide excellent opportunities to share issues and good practice with colleagues in similar roles.

Reflective diary:

Keeping a reflective diary, for example, weekly, spending about half an hour writing down key issues of concern and/or interest at the end of each working day, own response and learning to and from the experience.

(ii) Producing a plan for own professional development, using an appropriate source of support

A personal development plan is an important document that identifies own training and development needs, and it is updated at every attendance of training and development to include a record of participation. Personal development plan can take many forms, but the best ones are likely to be developed in conjunction with own manager or workplace supervisor, considering own ‘areas of competence’ carefully and, understanding those needed to develop for own work role. Personal development plan generally includes:

  • Different development areas, such as practical skills and communication skills
  • Own goals or targets set
  • A timescale for achieving own set goals or targets.

(iii) Improving performance through reflective practice

Reflective practice is a way of studying your own experiences to improve own practice. Reflective practice can be defined as the process of making sense of events, situations and actions that occur in own workplace. It is a great way to increase confidence and become a more proactive and qualified professional.

A few examples of models of reflective practise are given below:

Gibbs’ reflective cycle: It is a process involving six steps:

  • Description – What happened?
  • Feelings – What did you think and feel about it?
  • Evaluation – What were the positives and negatives?
  • Analysis – What sense can you make of it?
  • Conclusion – What else could you have done?
  • Action Plan – What will you do next time?

It is a reflective cycle because the action taken in the final stage will feedback into the first stage, and then cycling through the following stages in turn again.

Johns’ model for structured reflection: It is a series of questions to help individual thinks through their own experience and enables their analysis and reflection on the process and outcomes. This can be used as a guide for analysing a critical incident or for general reflection on experiences. The model:

  • Supports the need for the learner to work with a supervisor throughout the experience;
  • Recommends learners use a structured diary;
  • Suggests the student should ‘look in on the situation’, which would include focusing on and paying attention to their thoughts and emotions;
  • Advises to ‘look out of the situation’ and writes a description of the situation around own thoughts and feelings.

Rolfe’s framework for reflective practice: Rolfe uses three simple questions to reflect on a situation: What? so what? and now what? considering the final question as to the one that can make the greatest contribution to practice.

The importance of reflective practice in improving performance

Constantly changing and newly emerging standards in social care reflect constant changes in the profession with emphases on personalised and quality services.

Reflective practice helps improving workers to adjust and develop to meeting the needs of the new developments, changes and updates which affect their work.

Reflective practice enables workers to incorporate an awareness of the need to update their knowledge constantly into all of their work activities and, consequently, embark on continuous professional development to improve their performance.

Reflective practice helps the workers to constantly update their knowledge base of the legislation, guidelines, policies and procedures in the care sector to ensure their practice is in line with current thinking and new theories.