Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Continuing medical education and continuing professional development: international comparisons

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 12 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:432
  1. Cathy Peck (, director of continuing professional developmenta,
  2. Martha McCall, executive officerb,
  3. Belinda McLaren, research assistantb,
  4. Tai Rotem, research assistantb
  1. a, London EC1R 3DB
  2. b Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: C Peck
  • Accepted 2 January 2000

Editorials by du Boulay and Asbjørn Holm

Continuing professional development is the process by which health professionals keep updated to meet the needs of patients, the health service, and their own professional development. It includes the continuous acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes to enable competent practice. There is no sharp division between continuing medical education and continuing professional development, as during the past decade continuing medical education has come to include managerial, social, and personal skills, topics beyond the traditional clinical medical subjects. The term continuing professional development acknowledges not only the wide ranging competences needed to practise high quality medicine but also the multidisciplinary context of patient care.

Summary points

Internationally there is a move from continuing medical education (or clinical update) to continuing professional development, including medical, managerial, social, and personal skills

Continuing professional development is a process of lifelong learning in practice

Although the international systems vary in detail, there are many common features of content and process that allow international mutual recognition of activities in professional development

Most systems are based on an hours related credit system

Where revalidation or recertification of practitioners is required, demonstration of continuing professional development is an important integral part of the process


We obtained information from an assessment of the relevant policies, and interviews with directors of continuing professional development of the UK medical royal colleges, the UK Joint Centre for Education in Medicine, the European Union of Medical Specialties, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the American Medical Association and other American specialty societies, and the US Accreditation Committee for Continuing Medical Education. We also assessed research by the Australian and New Zealand Committee for the Maintenance of Professional Standards.

Common features of systems for professional development internationally

Although there are wide variations across systems for professional development in different countries and healthcare systems, …

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