Two thumbs up for the CME Congress

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I've gone to quite a few conferences for people who provide continuing medical education now, and while these folks are experts in adult education (in many cases, they literally have written books on it), I can't tell you how many times I've seen the same old talking head lecture/stuff a year's worth of material into two days/no time for reflection/minimal interaction/etc./etc. mistakes being made. In fact, up until last week, I don’t think I’d made it through an entire conference without at least one presenter saying, “Don’t follow my example—do as I’m saying, not as I’m doing.” It would be kind of funny if it weren’t so sad. And frustrating for me as a learner.

So imagine how excited I was when I saw that the CME Congress, the “Olympics of CME” that is held just once every four years in Toronto, was planning to shake things up a little. I’d like to applaud the CME Congress organizers at the Society for Academic CME, the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions, the Association for Hospital Medical Educators, the Canadian Association of Continuing Health Education, and host University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, Office of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development (co-chaired by SACME President Gabrielle Kane and University of Toronto's Ivan SIlver, MD) for doing something we all talk about a lot, but seldom put into practice at our own meetings: Really designing the meeting to maximize learning.

But first, let me get my geek on and say how glad I was to see the Congress offering a vibrant social media presence. There was a dedicated member of the University of Toronto CEPD monitoring the event Twitter hashtag, and quite of few of the participants were tweeting our aha! moments and key takeaways throughout the event. We also were welcomed to participate on the organization’s Facebook page, and there was a mobile site set up for the Congress—not to mention free Wi-Fi throughout the meeting space! Not that a lot of people took advantage of it, but for those of us who like that sort of thing, it felt good to be in the center of things instead of on the fringe.

But what I really loved was the conference organizers’ willingness to shake things up. While the congress was organized around five main themes—medical simulation, safety and quality improvement, assessment of clinicians, optimizing learning, and interprofessional continuing education—they came at these themes in a number of different, sometimes even playful ways. The plenaries offered both main speakers and “discussants” who would take what the speaker had to say to new levels and/or discuss the practical implications of the topic. The concurrent sessions offered a mix of 60- to 80-minute sessions that were either intensive workshops led by one team of faculty, or best practices/research sessions consisting of a mix of 12-minute presentations on related topics.

Then there was the plenary on engaging learners that entailed a “play within a play,” where two people role-played the realities of how pedagogy, politics, and practicality—the plenary’s topic—played out in real life. Well, maybe not quite like real life, since it entailed conference co-chair Ivan Silver, MD, MEd, sprinting down the aisle in his “IdeaMan” superhero costume. Then there was a “Survivor”-style facilitated poster session. Grouped to represent either Canada or the U.S., each presenter had just three minutes and three slides to make his or her case. The audience voted for the top three, who then went into a challenge round to deem the ultimate poster survivor winner. I opted to go to the Innovations Booth during that timeframe, which was fantastic. In just four 15-minute sets, I learned about four innovations that could help save time, streamline CME operations, and improve learning. Finally, there were the Fringe sessions, which gave us a glimpse into new and different approaches to CME, from game-based learning to using dramatic presentations to inform and educate.

I don’t think I even once heard a presenter say, “Do as I’m saying, not as I’m doing,” though I do have to admit we still are in need of remedial work when it comes to unreadable PowerPoint slides. Kudos to the CME Congress organizers for a job extraordinarily well done. I can’t wait for 2016!

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