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By Alan L. Hanson

Alan Hanson-finalProfessional development should be of paramount importance to individual scientists in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as their employers. Educational benefits (knowledge, skills) are integral to the present, as well as the future, of the pharmaceutical industry. It is to the benefit of the industry and to providers of professional development to monitor what motivates scientists to participate in professional development, and facilitate their involvement. Providing such opportunities has been part of the mission, goals, and responsibility of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy for over 60 years.

To examine factors that motivate scientists to participate in professional development, a marketing survey was conducted by the Division of Pharmacy Professional Development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy in cooperation with UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies. Results are reported on the division’s website. In brief, data shows that industry scientist respondents participate—on average—in two to four professional development events per year. Data reflecting employer support and motivation for participation by scientists are shown in the graph at the end of this post.

With the strong interest by industry scientists in professional development and the availability of some financial support of these activities by their employers, there appears to be no shortage of professional development opportunities offered by a variety of sources. Scientist interest, employer financial support, and multiple sources of professional development do not appear to be sufficient to halt the decline in attendance that is readily apparent at live professional development events.

Where are industry scientists fulfilling their professional development needs? Respondents to the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy survey reported that free, online webinars are the most appealing, and they are by far the most common type of professional development that respondents have participated in over the past two years. Certainly interest and participation in webinars and other forms of distance education are not unique to the pharmaceutical industry audience. It has been an ongoing trend in professional development and continuing education at the practicing pharmacist level (and likely other professionals as well) for years.

Professional development delivered through distance technologies provides certain benefits including enhanced accessibility (no travel), convenient timing to one’s own professional/personal schedule, and having the potential for increased affordability (no travel/lodging costs). However, one should not lose sight of the benefits of live programming. The opportunity for networking at live conferences is invaluable, as indicated by 50% of survey respondents for whom networking was important. Opportunities afforded through networking at live conferences—particularly those that are highly focused, have small/manageable size relative to attendees, and that build networking opportunities into the program design—are meaningful and cannot be quantified. Ongoing surveys conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy at its live professional development programs would support these listed benefits of participation in live professional development conferences. While it may be unpopular among meeting planners to admit, experience suggests that live program attendees may learn just as much from networking with peers and one-on-one conversations with program faculty as they do from the planned, scheduled presentations.

Based on survey results reported here, as well as personal experience as a provider of professional development, it appears that the popularity of distance education will continue to be strong. However, live programming—with the benefits of networking and skill-building—should remain an important means of professional development.

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Alan L. Hanson, Ph.D., R.Ph., is a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy where he holds the rank of professor and serves as associate dean of outreach. He also serves as chair of the Division of Pharmacy Professional Development (DPPD), the school’s division for pharmacy continuing education/professional development, with a team of five faculty and three support staff.