As professionals, pharmacists have a moral/ethical obligation to remain professionally competent because patients trust them to do what is right. We try to measure professional competence to enter the practice of pharmacy with a Board of Pharmacy examination. In each state, passage of that examination allows one to become licensed to practice pharmacy in that state and also allows reciprocating one's license to most other states. Although there have been periodic discussions about requiring pharmacists to demonstrate competence to continue to practice, this has not occurred. Instead, most states require pharmacists to receive continuing education (CE) each year as a surrogate measure of maintaining competence. While other professions may require many more hours, pharmacy averages around 15 hours per year of CE. Many are beginning to question whether this is adequate in today's rapidly changing practice environment. Others question whether CE adequately meets the life-long learning or practice behavior needs of pharmacists. Therefore, a few states have tried to define what type of CE a pharmacist should receive, but no state looks at whether the CE taken is relevant to that pharmacist's practice.

Recently, pharmacy educators and those concerned about credentialing in pharmacy have started talking about continuing professional development (CPD) as a more effective tool to measure whether an individual pharmacist is qualified to practice. Michael Rouse has summarized the principles of CPD as follows (JAPhA. 2004;44:517-520):

  • CPD is a systematic, ongoing cyclical process of self-directed learning.
  • It includes everything practitioners learn that enables them to be more effective as professionals; that is, both traditional CE and other forms of professional development.
  • CPD includes the entire scope of the practitioner's practice, and it may include activities both within and outside the usual work setting.
  • CPD is a partnership between the practitioner and his organization, meeting the needs of both.
  • Practitioners are responsible for their own professional development. Organizations have a responsibility to help practitioners meet development needs that relate to performance in their current jobs.

When, or even if, this approach will happen is unknown. Those pharmacists who strive for competence and recognize such moral/ethical obligations to society, however, may want to explore CPD voluntarily.