Maintenance of professional competence in Ireland: a national survey of doctors' attitudes and experiences

BMJ Open. 2020 Dec 10;10(12):e042183. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-042183.


Objectives: Programmes to ensure doctors' maintenance of professional competence (MPC) have been established in many countries. Since 2011, doctors in Ireland have been legally required to participate in MPC. A significant minority has been slow to engage with MPC, mirroring the contested nature of such programmes internationally. This study aimed to describe doctors' attitudes and experiences of MPC in Ireland with a view to enhancing engagement.

Participants: All registered medical practitioners in Ireland required to undertake MPC in 2018 were surveyed using a 33-item cross-sectional mixed-methods survey designed to elicit attitudes, experiences and suggestions for improvement.

Results: There were 5368 responses (response rate 42%). Attitudes to MPC were generally positive, but the time, effort and expense involved outweighed the benefit for half of doctors. Thirty-eight per cent agreed that MPC is a tick-box exercise. Heavy workload, travel, requirement to record continuing professional development activities and demands placed on personal time were difficulties cited. Additional support, as well as higher quality, more varied educational activities, were among suggested improvements. Thirteen per cent lacked confidence that they could meet requirements, citing employment status as the primary issue. MPC was particularly challenging for those working less than full-time, in locum or non-clinical roles, and taking maternity or sick leave. Seventy-seven per cent stated a definite intention to comply with MPC requirements. Being male, or having a basic medical qualification from outside Ireland, was associated with less firm intention to comply.

Conclusions: Doctors need to be convinced of the benefits of MPC to them and their patients. A combination of clear communication and improved relevance to practice would help. Addition of a facilitated element, for example, appraisal, and varied ways to meet requirements, would support participation. MPC should be adequately resourced, including provision of high-quality free educational activities. Systems should be established to continually evaluate doctors' perspectives.

Keywords: health policy; health services administration & management; medical education & training.