Practice makes perfect: A systematic review of the expertise development of pharmacist and nurse independent prescribers in the United Kingdom

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Abstract

Background

Prescribing is a complex and error-prone task that demands expertise. McLellan et al.'s theory of expertise development model (“the model”), developed to assess medical literature on prescribing by medical students, proposes that in order to develop, individuals should deliberately engage their knowledge, skills and attitudes within a social context. Its applicability to independent prescribers (IP) is unknown.

Aim

A systematic review was conducted to explore whether the model is applicable to non-medical independent prescribing and to assess the factors underpinning expertise development reported in the literature.

Method

Six electronic databases (EMBASE, Medline, AMED, CINAHL, IPA and PsychInfo) were searched for articles published between 2006 and 2016, reporting empirical data on pharmacist and nurse IPs education or practice. Data were extracted using themes from the model and analysed using framework analysis.

Results

Thirty-four studies met the inclusion criteria. Knowledge, pre-registration education, experience, support and confidence were some of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors influencing IPs. Difficulty in transferring theory to practice was attributed to lack of basic pharmacology and bioscience content in pre-registration nursing rather than the prescribing programme. Students saw interventions using virtual learning or learning in practice as more useful with long-term benefits e.g. students were able to use their skills in history taking following the virtual learning intervention 6-months after the programme. All studies demonstrated how engaging knowledge and skills affected individuals’ attitude by, for example, increasing professional dignity. IPs were able to develop their expertise when integrating their competencies in a workplace context with support from colleagues and adherence to guidelines.

Conclusion

This is the first study to synthesize data systematically on expertise development from studies on IPs using the model. The model showed the need for stronger foundations in scientific knowledge amongst some IPs, where continuous workplace practice can improve skills and strengthen attitudes. This could facilitate a smoother transfer of learnt theory to practice, in order for IPs to be experts within their fields and not merely adequately competent.

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