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What is Professional Development in Healthcare?

A challenging and ever-changing industry like healthcare demands an updating of skills to improve health outcomes and patient satisfaction. But healthcare professionals, while devoted to care, are not simply care providers. They are employees, team members and working people with career aspirations. In order to excel in healthcare one needs to build their professional acumen to excel in healthcare environments. This can be accomplished through programs of professional development in healthcare.

How Does Professional Development Relate to Healthcare?

Professional development refers to the healthcare professional’s pursuit of skills, traits and knowledge pertaining to their performance in and engagement with healthcare workplaces. Professional development prepares individuals by teaching new applications for existing professional methodologies or by instilling novel problem-solving approaches.

Professional Development vs Continuing Medical Education

Practitioners with continuing medical education requirements are seeing the culture of continuing education in their field extend to professional development. Each is a distinctly different area of aptitude, although both CME and professional development could be considered types of continuing education.

  • For professional development in healthcare, practitioners learn to identify problems, apply solutions and generally enhance their value to their workplaces with career-focused skills and knowledge. These aptitudes may be more general, centering on interpersonal skills or productivity techniques, or they may be more tailored to an individual’s role, such as healthcare team management skills.
  • The goal of continuing medical education is to provide practitioners with ongoing learning opportunities and resources to improve their skills, knowledge and clinical abilities. CME requirements are intended to keep healthcare professionals up-to-date with advanced medical protocols, research and clinical best practice.

The Ways a Healthcare Practitioner Can Develop Professionally

Professional development starts early in the structured environment of college and is increasingly a part of nursing and medical school programs. This head start helps form the basis for future professional development efforts to help engender a commitment to learning over the course of a career.

Healthcare employees can take advantage of professional development programs made available within or outside of their workplace. Some professional development programs can be completed for continuing education credit while others are designed strictly for career advancement.

Professional development can be incorporated into CME curriculums as individual lessons or series of lessons within a broader seminar. Common options are leadership, stress management and practice optimization. Curriculums like these help serve and support a wider range of clinician goals and acknowledge that care delivery and career advancement can be one and the same.

Popular Healthcare Professional Development Topics


While leadership development improves the leadership qualities of individuals across a healthcare workforce, management courses are likely to be the most impactful for those capable of administrating and directing a team of healthcare professionals.

It is important that management training programs are made accessible to individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities as a part of healthcare management DEI programs to ensure diverse workforces are well represented. Advancements in psychological and social sciences inform curriculum development and help identify, groom and select talented management candidates.

While great managers often have natural skills, some need to be developed and refined before they are ready to act as a supervisor to a team of nurses or as a physician in charge of departmental staff. Effective professional development will address the areas of communication, collaboration and critical thinking needed to manage in fast-paced healthcare environments.


One option for health systems and hospitals pursuing top talent for administrative and clinical roles is to recruit and develop internally. Human resources administrators can and do develop or prescribe leadership courses as a requirement of certain roles like in the case of physicians, who are often the de facto leaders of their departments. Courses can mirror CME seminars with intensive, multi-day conferences.

Leadership development could come within the framework of a particular position (e.g. an administrative role) or can be a trait developed across a healthcare workforce. For individual practitioners, leadership may be more of a requirement than a value-added skill and this is made clear with its addition to medical school curriculums.


The benefits of improved communication are clear. Fewer medical errors, higher job satisfaction and more dynamic care are among the most notable. It is more important than ever for practitioners and healthcare organizations to find ways to facilitate improved communication, which encompasses a practitioner’s communication between patients and their healthcare teammates. Professional development can include general training in empathy, writing, nonverbal communication, personal connection and active listening with immediate and sustained impacts on both patients and colleagues.


Any practitioner can refine and bolster their teamwork skills with a targeted professional development curriculum. The essential elements of teamwork are communication, collaboration and trust, helping practitioners work as colleagues rather than as single, siloed units. Important traits for healthcare teamwork also include situational awareness. Performance assessment should be developed to allow teammates to defer to those more suited to a task.

Professional development for physicians may emphasize the factors important to developing a culture of teamwork and communication among their staff. Teamwork can facilitate more coordinated, integrated care by ensuring that information between practitioners, practices and departments isn’t lost.

Healthcare Technology

The ability to use, integrate and optimize the use of technology in healthcare is paramount for patients and practitioners looking to get ahead professionally. Continuing education and professional development options are available for those who want to learn more about workplace tech outside of their facility. As healthcare becomes more digitized and eventually, AI-enhanced, it will become pivotal for clinical professionals to use tools like advanced electronic health records to capture, interpret and apply more forms of data. Within the healthcare professional development sphere, courses designed to teach the use and application of healthcare technologies are emerging.