Clocking in

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CPD clocking inThe Continuing Professional Development system provides great opportunities for dentists. But are the rules around non-clinical education too lax? And can that really be a good thing? Amy Gray investigates.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points are a growing issue for dental practitioners, with updated standards released last year. The system requires all practitioners to spend 60 hours over three years on clinical education activities, with logged hours and evidence of attendance at events, and a further 12 hours on ‘non-scientific’ work-related education.

But while the requirement for clinical or scientifically-based activities is well-defined by the Dental Board of Australia (DBA), the requirements for the 20 per cent non-scientific component remain vague. It’s almost as if the DBA is suggesting, “If it feels like education, it counts”.

The wheat from the chaff

“It’s fair to say with the introduction of the CPD requirements, there was an obvious expansion in providers of CPD and that makes it difficult to know exactly what is being offered from those providers,” says Ian Burgess, CEO of the NSW branch of the Australian Dental Association (ADA).

There’s a risk that the profusion of course providers could result in badly planned educational events, or boozy meals masquerading as genuine opportunities for continued professional development.

Burgess says that while he hasn’t “personally seen [dubious CPD providers],”, he has “heard reports of it.”

When asked what he thought of the provider criteria rules, he quipped “There are rules?”. However, while acknowledging he has heard tales of shonky operators slipping in through vague CPD-provider criteria, Burgess does not believe the rules should be tightened as a result.

It’s a similar response from all the dental practitioners Bite interviewed both on and off the record—everyone has heard something, but no one has seen anything concrete or wants a crackdown on providers.

“With the introduction of the CPD requirements, there was an obvious expansion in providers of CPD and that makes it difficult to know exactly what is being offered.” – Ian Burgess, ADA NSW CEO

The curiously quiet reaction suggests the problem is known, but not widespread enough to add more requirements to the registration standard.

Dr Christopher Telford, a Sydney dentist, agrees. “I think dentistry is too small for that,” he says. “It’s about the size of the medical specialists—it’s not America. I think ‘Big Pharma’ is where you get those deals.”

But he believes the problem may become more apparent, as he perceives dentistry has “gone from a Hippocratic ethic to a corporate ethic”, where profits trump service and education.

Do your due diligence

Despite his concerns about the changing face of the industry, Dr Telford believes that “there’s been a serious effort to ensure the dentistry industry is free from conflict-of-interest issues”.

Unsurprisingly, Burgess agrees and suggests practitioners exercise caution and investigate CPD opportunities. “What are their specific learning requirements and how can they meet those?”

“It really boils down to ‘what does the organisation exist for?’ We exist for the benefit of our members; our vision is to support the best standard of oral health for our community,” he explains.

Burgess points to the ADA’s comprehensive CPD offerings, which are continually reviewed internally and externally. According to him, the ADA have standards to ensure quality education. “At a base level, our presenters are well known and experts in their field [and] actively publish in academic papers.”

The ADA remains responsive to feedback, with Burgess noting that “it’s the members who can assess presenters and content of courses—we ask members to critique that constantly.”

Remote opportunities

Yet many CPD events are held in city locations, which provides accessibility issues for dental practitioners in rural locations. They may attend dubious CPD courses if nothing else is available.

Burgess agrees rural practitioners are at risk and also require the networking possibilities face-to-face CPD courses can bring, as well as reduce accessibility issues. “That’s a big reason we’ve been looking into study groups in the local area,” Burgess says. “We’re looking at how to provide access and increase the amount of CPD we deliver through those forums.”

Dr Telford attends conferences as part of his CPD, and he’s a regular at study groups including one that was first established in 1984. “I am part of the Sydney Dental Discussion Group and it has a lecture, presentation or discussion,” he says.

The group has a relatively informal structure with the members themselves delivering lectures, which still fits within the CPD guidelines. “There’s 15 in the group and each one of them gives a presentation. You end up getting different views and, in my mind, that’s fully justified but it’s also different from a lecture,” he says.

Dr Telford does cede that getting one of the 15 members to present can introduce issues: “We’ve just had a review on infection-control guidelines. We had an hour-and-a-half discussion and then we retired to dinner and continued discussing it.” But it was also the third study group to discuss the topic with members finding new ways to present and discuss issues.

“Sometimes,” he says, “we just discuss little items. You introduce an item, discuss it for 10 minutes and then the rest of the group discuss it for 10 minutes.”

Yet dental practitioners without the funds to attend paid CPD courses aren’t stuck between a rock and an informal place. Burgess is proud of offering courses to rural and time-poor practitioners. “The ADA does currently deliver information online, and possibly one of the best and comprehensive resources is our digital media library,” he says. “We’re also in the process of automating those CPD hours into a CPD log for our members.”

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