Photograph by kind permission of Yorkshire Newspapers

Development is not the same as training or education: it is a broad, lifelong process of improving your skills, knowledge and interests as way of maximising your potential. You should make time to draw up your own personal development plan, which must look at where you are now, your career goals, the development needs that are going to help you get to where you want to be, and the options for learning, which should address your learning style and the resources available both inside and outside work. You should always aim to stretch yourself intellectually.

Update your professional knowledge as and when; refresh your interest and enthusiasm by exploring aspects of your work you’d not looked at for some time. Don’t leave things you don’t like on one side: tackle subjects you don’t like as well as the ones you do. Don’t forget to maintain a log of each and every bit of development you undertake; you never know when you might need to show it to someone.

Courses can be expensive, and you run the serious risk of wasting a great deal of time and money if you don’t first define what you want any specific training or development to achieve, so set objectives so that you know what you want to achieve, and devise a way of comparing results with objectives. Don’t waste your time and money on irrelevant or not-very-good courses. Decide exactly what it is you need to do and stick to it!

A great deal of emphasis is now placed on acquiring not just formal qualifications, but also other life experiences as part of lifelong learning (LLL). LLL is best described as the acquisition of skills and knowledge through formal (courses) and informal (experiences) channels. LLL is very much part of your personal and professional development, your development as a person.

Up until you complete your degree your learning is mainly formal, but once you are ‘qualified’, your learning can and should be a mix of formal and informal. The days when you walked out of dental school with a piece of paper that proclaimed your capabilities are long gone. The modern work place is ultra competitive and you need to continuously update and upgrade your skills and knowledge, not necessarily to move forward, but rather to stop yourself from falling behind. However, improving your job prospects is just one of the reasons why you should embrace LLL. You need to make yourself a more rounded person.

My own experiences of LLL have been wide and varied, but every one of them has enriched my life, both on a personal and on a professional level. I embraced LLL long before continuing professional development (CPD) was mandatory, for no other reason than as a practice owner I felt that I had to keep abreast of clinical innovations etc. I got a part-time teaching role at two dental hospitals, which meant I was in touch with new research and ideas, and I also gained a new social and professional network. The culmination of all of this was that I eventually studied for and gained an MSc.

Away from dentistry, because my education had been so biased towards the sciences, I’d always felt that somewhere along the line I’d missed out by not studying or learning about the arts. One day I resolved to put this right, but I wasn’t quite sure at that stage how to go about it. My personal preference is to ‘study’ in a structured way, and so I began by looking at what the Open University had to offer. I eventually gained a BA. Along the way I learnt about ancient history, how to read Latin and ancient Greek, archaeology, and the history of art. How relevant were these to my previous job and to what I do now, but perhaps more importantly, to me as a person? Each one taught me analytical skills, improved my organisational and time management skills, and broadened my understanding of where my culture and language came from and how they evolved. Most important of all, I learnt how to write, and that ultimately led to my career as a writer. I think that apart from anything else, LLL has enriched my intellectually and cultural life. Of course not everything you do has to be as highbrow as this, or as academic; it was my choice, but it doesn’t have to be yours.

Over the course of my LLL I have met numerous people of different backgrounds and different ages, whose reasons for learning were extremely varied. Interestingly, there have been a few dentists, practice managers and dental care professionals on some of the courses, all obviously keen to discover new things and to enrich their lives with knowledge.

You must embrace LLL and its sister CPD, and regard them both as being part of your professional status, and not as something that has been imposed on you. Spread your net far and wide when looking for subjects and topics to study. Nothing you learn, whether it is flower arranging or ancient history, will ever be wasted; at some later stage the skills and knowledge you pick up along the way will come in useful in some shape or form.

I can remember thinking that once I finished my undergraduate training I would never have to look at another book again (this was pre-CPD). However, the added enjoyment I now get from, say, visiting an art gallery and being able to ‘read’ the paintings, or visiting an ancient historic site and understanding the historical context, are things I would never have been able to do had I not embraced LLL all those years ago. I dare say that had it not been for LLL I may never have become a prize-winning author.

Copyright Michael Young 2014