Emerge and Spread Your Wings

Professional Development For Free

Now we’ve had a chance to settle into the year it’s time for many of us to update our professional development records. Occupational therapists are required to maintain an e-portfolio of our professional goals and ongoing learning. Other professions will have different professional development systems, or perhaps for you a performance appraisal is in the wind. Here’s a “Heads Up” on one source of free professional development information and a simple overview of ways to incorporate up to date research into your everyday practice using Google Scholar.

What is Google Scholar?

Google scholar is a search engine which allows you to search scholarly information (articles, research papers, theses, books) for free. The Otago Polytechnic Library has a great tutorial on using Google Scholar, but here is a quick overview. When you open the search engine it will look familiar to your usual Google search. Among the icons along the top is My Library. When you click on this it allows you to save articles into a file on-line – easy to find later. To explore current research on a topic of interest, type some key words into the search box. You may need to try different key words to get closer to your topic and also try entering the key words in different order. For instance, when I typed “pain management maori clients” I was able to find 9,000 results, although only the top 20 or so were relevant. When you have entered your search key words you will be given a list of articles with a brief abstract or description. You can modify the search time frame on the left, for instance only articles published since 2010 to get recent research.

Here is the cool part…

To the right of many of the articles is a link beginning either PDF or HTML which takes you to the article site. Here you can read and download the article for free. Articles or books without a link may be located through your professional association or another library link. At the very least you know the article is available even if you have to chase it.
Once you have found and digested the up-to-date research on your topic you might choose to use this in one of the following ways for your professional development.

How to use for professional development?

You might write an article review to share with colleagues. Or use the information as a basis for a presentation. Your supervision session could be used for a critical reflection on how you might modify your current practice to utilise this new research.   Or you might discuss your discoveries with your manager in a performance review. The information you gather might form the basis of a client information pamphlet or database.
Just a reminder – not all research that is published is robust or peer reviewed. Just because everyone believed the world was flat didn’t mean it was. Before you base any clinical judgments on new research make sure you critically reflect on the value of the information, the quality of the research, the credibility of the authors and whether it is backed by other research in the field.