Another Kind of CPD…

Is it possible that immersing yourself in the pursuit of surf, travel and good times can make you a better health professional?

Continuing professional development is a staple of modern health care. It is how we learn about new treatments and stay up to date with optimal practice techniques. With the current rate of innovation in pharmacy and healthcare it is an integral part of being the best we can be. As important as CPD is to optimising professional practice, I want to take some time for you to consider another kind of CPD… Continuing PERSONAL development

Ponder the following statement for a moment:

“Better people make better pharmacists.”

It is a hard statement to refute. Those pharmacists who are friendlier, happier, more compassionate, and possess better communication skills will generally be able to provide better patient care. The other CPD I am referring to is Continuing Personal Development and for some it may mean taking time to distance yourself from being a pharmacist and focussing on striving to be a more experienced, more informed human being.

Taking off late in Mexico, 2014 Photo Credit: Simone Schot

Continuing Personal Development is not a measurable concept, and it can mean different things to different people, however I would argue it is vital for best practice. My main advice for pharmacists out there is to do things that inspire you, intrigue you, challenge you and define you as a person. It doesn’t matter too much about what the activity, experience or hobby is. What is most important is a good perspective and positive reflection on how it can improve you as a person and the impact this has on your practice.Since registering as a pharmacist four years ago I have followed an alternative path to many of my colleagues. In short, I have completed a Graduate Diploma of Education and have done some subsequent high school teaching. I’ve used locum pharmacy to live and work in what I consider to be a range of Australia’s coolest places. I dabbled with working in event management and selling products online. I have worked as a surf guide in northern Nicaragua. I spent over a year in Latin America surfing, playing music, learning Spanish and road tripping. I have just completed the first of what I imagine will be many snow seasons. In the process I have gathered hundreds of stories and the primary focus has been living life to the full and maintaining happiness.

Continuing personal development is a personal endeavour and, as a result, the path that each of us forge is bound to have different journeys and experiences. Whatever your experience is, a key component for getting the most of your personal development is possessing an open mind geared towards seizing opportunities. Any good opportunity should offer you a chance to learn, to see something new or from a different perspective, push you outside of your comfort zone and also build on your existing skill set. These opportunities may be work related, but there are so many other things that can also fulfil these criteria.

Teaching kids from a fishing village in Mexico the basics of surfing

Of all the things I’ve done these last few years, the most profound and influential CPD I have had was learning Spanish as a second language. It opened up a wide range of opportunities and allowed me to communicate with 400-odd million people I wasn’t able to previously. There were various positive impacts it had on improving my pharmacy practice as well. Most of my Spanish progress came from picking peoples brains, striking conversations with locals and pressuring myself to be able to find and purchase necessary items and building from there.

Trying to learn a language in my 20’s definitely wasn’t the easiest thing I have done. And yet it feels like one of the most rewarding. I can’t imagine a much stronger tool to inspire empathy toward those speaking English as a second language than to put yourself in the same position of trying to communicate in a foreign language. It takes a lot of work to understand and be understood. You will have difficult conversations where you can’t quite express yourself just how you want to. At times this can be an uncomfortable feeling, but I can tell you from experience that if you persevere with it you should see your ability to communicate with everybody improve.

Bill Nye, The Science Guy, made a very good point when he said “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t”. This notion emphasises that everyone you meet has the ability to teach you something and to shape the way you view the world. It might not always be something tangible and sometimes it mightn’t be positive. From my experience, I have found that travelling is an excellent way to get inspired and expose yourself to different ideas and life lessons.

Way up over the countryside

So do I think the life of travel and chasing the dream has helped me develop into a better health professional? There isn’t a straightforward answer because it is hard to predict a sliding doors type scenario and determine where my career would be had I taken the more conventional pharmacy career pathway. Perhaps my clinical knowledge would be better, or I could be a lot better off financially had I have spent more time in a workplace setting. Either way, I don’t have regrets about where I am at or how I got there. These experiences have exposed me to countless people that have inspired me to grow my skill set in different ways and apply myself to more creative endeavours. I feel like a broad range of life experiences makes it easier to find common ground with patients and build a more personal level of rapport. My opinions as a health professional have been shaped more by what I’ve seen and experienced, rather than what I am simply told, and as a result they have a lot more conviction. Basically, I feel the positives far outweigh any perceivable ‘negatives’ of taking some time to follow your dreams.

Last year I had an interview with a prospective employer that asked me where I saw myself in five years. This common question focuses on the end goal. Rather than simply thinking where you’ll be, give consideration to how you plan on getting there and what you want to do in the next five years. Keep your mind open and don’t just focus on where you hope your career will take you. Think about potential travels, about making new friends, trying new things and saying yes to some opportunities that might lead you in a different direction than first thought. Most importantly, you only live once so make sure you enjoy the ride.

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