Physicians' lifelong learning journeys: A narrative analysis of continuing professional development struggles

Louise M. Allen*, Dorene Balmer, Lara Varpio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Despite tenacious efforts of continuing professional development (CPD) developers and educators, physician engagement in CPD is fraught with challenges. Research suggests that these educational interventions and the maintenance of professional competence systems that mandate them are often seen as impractical, decontextualized and check-box activities by participants. This study explores physicians' learning post graduate medical education (GME) training across their CPD journey to understand how they (a) conceive of themselves as learners and (b) engage in lifelong learning across the course of their professional careers. Methods: Using narrative inquiry and holistic narrative analysis situated within a social constructivist orientation, we carried out individual interviews with physicians from across a large children's hospital network including academic hospitals, community hospitals and primary care practices. Timelines and story arcs were used to support the narrative analysis's re-storying. Results: Twelve physicians from six different sub-specialties were interviewed. We identified three noteworthy challenges as particularly salient across participants' re-storied narratives: (i) train-on-a-track to treading water, (ii) learning takes a backseat, and (iii) learning through foraging or hunting and gathering. Participants described significant change when transitioning from GME to CPD learning. While participants identified as learners, they described the disorienting impact of losing GME's formal supports and structures. They articulated that patient care trumped learning as their top priority. They lamented having limited insight into their learning needs (e.g. little feedback data) and so resorted to engaging in CPD activities that were readily at hand—but not necessarily relevant—and to finding learning resources that might not be formally recognised for CPD credit. Conclusions: Physicians' learning journeys post-GME are challenging, and the systems created to support that learning are ill equipped to meet the needs of physicians transitioning from GME to CPD. To encourage meaningful learning, the complex interplay of factors impeding CPD engagement should inform future innovations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Education
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes


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