Doctors’ maintenance of professional competence: a qualitative study informed by the theory of planned behaviour

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Background: Medical regulators worldwide have implemented programmes of maintenance of professional competence (MPC) to ensure that doctors, throughout their careers, are up to date and fit to practice. The introduction of MPC required doctors to adopt a range of new behaviours. Despite high enrolment rates on these programmes, it remains uncertain whether doctors engage in the process because they perceive benefits like improvements in their practice and professional development or if they solely meet the requirements to retain medical registration. In this study, we aimed to explore the relationship between doctors’ beliefs, intention and behaviour regarding MPC through the lens of the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) to make explicit the factors that drive meaningful engagement with the process. Methods: We conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews. From a pool of 1258 potential participants, we purposively selected doctors from multiple specialities, age groups, and locations across Ireland. We used thematic analysis, and the TPB informed the analytic coding process. Results: Forty-one doctors participated in the study. The data analysis revealed doctors’ intention and behaviour and the factors that shape their engagement with MPC. We found that attitudes and beliefs about the benefits and impact of MPC mediated the nature of doctors’ engagement with the process. Some participants perceived positive changes in practice and other gains from participating in MPC, which facilitated committed engagement with the process. Others believed MPC was unfair, unnecessary, and lacking any benefit, which negatively influenced their intention and behaviour, and that was demonstrated by formalistic engagement with the process. Although participants with positive and negative attitudes shared perceptions about barriers to participation, such perceptions did not over-ride strongly positive beliefs about the benefits of MPC. While the requirements of the regulator strongly motivated doctors to participate in MPC, beliefs about patient expectations appear to have had less impact on intention and behaviour. Conclusions: The findings of this study broaden our understanding of the determinants of doctors’ intention and behaviour regarding MPC, which offers a basis for designing targeted interventions. While the barriers to engagement with MPC resonate with previous research findings, our findings challenge critical assumptions about enhancing doctors’ engagement with the process. Overall, our results suggest that focused policy initiatives aimed at strengthening the factors that underpin the intention and behaviour related to committed engagement with MPC are warranted.




Wiese, A., Galvin, E., O’Farrell, J., Cotter, J., & Bennett, D. (2021). Doctors’ maintenance of professional competence: a qualitative study informed by the theory of planned behaviour. BMC Health Services Research, 21(1).

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