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01.12.2017 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Human Resources for Health 1/2017

Experiences and perceptions of online continuing professional development among clinicians in sub-Saharan Africa

Human Resources for Health > Ausgabe 1/2017
Caryl Feldacker, Sheena Jacob, Michael H. Chung, Anya Nartker, H. Nina Kim
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12960-017-0266-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Limitations in healthcare worker (HCW) capacity compound the burden of dual TB and HIV epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa. To fill gaps in knowledge and skills, effective continuing profession development (CPD) initiatives are needed to support practicing HCWs reach high standards of care. e-learning opportunities can bring expert knowledge to HCWs in the field and provide a flexible learning option adaptable to local settings. Few studies provide insight into HCW experiences with online CPD in the developing country context.


An online survey using both close-ended and free response was conducted to HCWs in sub-Saharan Africa who completed the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine online graduate course, “Clinical Management of HIV.” Associations between respondent characteristics (age, gender, rural/urban, job title) and learning preferences, course barriers, and facilitators with an emphasis on online courses were examined using chi-square. Covariates significant at the p < 0.05 were analyzed using multivariable logistic regression. Responses to open-ended comments were analyzed using simplified grounded theory.


Of 2,299 former students, 464 (20%) HCWs completed surveys from 13 countries: about half were women. Physicians (33%), nurses (27%), and clinical officers (30%) responded mostly from urban areas (67%) and public institutions (69%). Sixty-two percent accessed the online course from work, noting that slow (55%) or limited (41%) internet as well as lack of time (53%) were barriers to course completion. Women (p < 0.001) and HCWs under age 40 (p = 0.007) were more likely to prefer learning through mentorship than men or older HCWs. Respondents favored group discussion (46%), case studies (42%), and self-paced Internet/computer-based learning (39%) and clinical mentorship (37%) when asked to choose 3 preferred learning modalities. Free-response comments offered additional positive insights into the appeal of online courses by noting the knowledge gains, the flexibility of format, a desire for recognition of course completion, and a request for additional online coursework.


Online CPD opportunities were accepted across a diverse group of HCWs from sub-Saharan Africa and should be expanded to provide more flexible opportunities for self-initiated learning; however, these need to be responsive to the limited resources of those who seek these courses.
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