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How do healthcare trainers develop their expertise?

In this article, we examine how expert trainers develop subject teaching knowledge, and develop and try out new methods.

Expert trainers can make training appear easy. They seamlessly adapt to learners’ needs and provide a mixture of support and praise.

In this article, we examine how expert trainers develop subject teaching knowledge tailored to the moment. Their skill and professionalism can lead an observer to believe the trainer simply has a natural talent.

How healthcare trainers develop their expertise

Some trainers do have an innate talent. But for most, the apparent ease with which they train belies much preparation and practice. The breadth of their skill comes from many hours of trying out ideas, reflecting on their impact and refining them.

For a given topic, they have a mental store of activities, techniques, and stories with which they can bring their subject to life. They develop a subject knowledge that goes beyond a lesson plan and allows them to answer questions from learners who wish to extend their knowledge.

They are able to adapt a lesson plan to the needs of their learners when required, for example by providing an alternative explanation if something has not been understood.

Subject teaching knowledge

Expert trainers possess subject teaching knowledge1. This is a combination of knowledge of the topic supported by knowledge of how best to teach it. These combine to ensure a given subject is taught as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Instructor courses

For some topics, instructor courses are available which allow subject teaching knowledge to be imparted. Aspiring trainers learn tried and tested teaching techniques for the topic.

They practice teaching and receive formative feedback on their performance. On successful completion, they become a certified trainer for the topic.

For example, in the UK, the Resuscitation Council provide ‘Generic Instructor Courses. In addition to general principles of teaching and assessment, these courses include coaching in the running of cardiac arrest simulations.

Subject specialist mentors

For subjects that do not have a dedicated instructor course, an inexperienced trainer must acquire subject teaching skills by other means. The most effective is to enlist a subject specialist mentor.

This is a fellow professional who is experienced at teaching the topic. The mentor guides and supports the new trainer as they build up expertise, offering their own suggestions along the way.

Learning the subject themselves

A new trainer is also likely to employ methods they found effective when they learned the subject themselves. For example, they may have learned to make drug calculations using ‘What you want, over what you’ve got, times what it’s in’ instead of the terms ‘numerator’ and ‘denominator’.

They also know how that a common error is to mistakenly divide ‘what you’ve got by what you want and how to ensure learners are able to spot this error in real life.

Expert trainers never stop learning

In the video, we mentioned that expert trainers endeavour to record ideas when they come to them. This is often for an event they are planning at the time.

Many trainers also keep notes of information that might be useful at some point in the future. This eclectic mix of facts, ideas, quotes and information sources is recorded in a notebook or folder on a laptop.

Hand writing in notebook

Known as ‘Commonplace books’, they are a store for information that can’t easily be categorised, but which might come in useful at some future point in their training career.

Developing a new course

Sometimes a trainer is asked to provide a course that has not taken place before. Expert trainers have a wealth of knowledge with which to build a new course or online module, but must go through a testing stage, nonetheless.


Many use a ‘storyboard’ of the proposed course to show to colleagues, and other stakeholders. Storyboards comprise a mixture of visual sketches and notes which provide the main idea of the content and sequence of an event.

In this way, a trainer or learning designer gains feedback before the course is finalised.

Trainer showing a storyboard to a colleague

The storyboard is shared with key stakeholders and enables major changes to be made before work commences. This technique is particularly valuable for online learning as it enables feedback before the major creative work commences.

Trying new methods

As trainers develop, they regularly try new ideas. These may be something they witnessed another trainer do or describe, a method they read about or perhaps devised themselves.

When testing a fresh approach, it can help to share the experience with a colleague in what is known as a ‘Supported Experiment’.

In this way, the colleague is able to provide an objective view and effectively coach the trainer through the experience. An article that gives more detail on Supported Experiments is available in Downloads below.

What standards do experts trainers set for themselves?

Expert trainers act as role models. This applies both to the way they teach and the way they model best practices in the workplace.

In the UK, the professional body for trainers is the Society for Education and Training. They have a set of 20 Professional Standards that apply to educators of all disciplines.

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Train the Healthcare Trainer

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