“As we continue to struggle with our personal feelings and our desires to do something to help, I wanted to point out to you contributions that you have made already that you may not have thought about,” Donald E. Moore Jr., PhD, director, division of CME, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville; and president, Alliance for CME, wrote to his CME colleagues on September 24. “Physicians and other health care professionals performed to the best of their ability in very trying circumstances. Part of the reason that they were able to perform so well was because of continuing medical education…. So, as you are trying to deal with the horror and grief of September 11, take some pride in the role that your profession played in preparing health care workers and emergency personnel to perform as well as they did. CME professionals are not always on the front lines, but we are always there to provide needed support.”

We asked Moore, a 25-year CME veteran, what CME providers can do to help health care professionals, themselves, and their colleagues cope with this continuing trauma.

Q: How can CME providers teach health care professionals to help their patients deal with this trauma?

A: The best thing is to do what they do best; that is, work with experts in the field to develop programming that relates to trauma — trauma related to terrorism. I know that most trauma courses to date don't really cover those issues. Faculty will move in that direction almost automatically and we need to provide support. Be sure that trauma courses include grief counseling. And certainly [include information] about resources in the community. It's best always to err on the side of comprehensiveness.

Q: What is the role of CME providers in implementing disaster plans?

A: It's important for CME providers in a given community to understand what the disaster plan is and think thoroughly about the educational implications. Information about the disaster plan ought to be distributed pretty widely. In a hospital, the trauma and ER departments typically know most about that emergency disaster plan; other physicians and health care professionals know about it minimally. CME providers ought to [figure out] what educational role they can play and work with those responsible for the plan to design appropriate educational activities. The same process holds for bioterrorism; but in that case, everyone needs to balance the desire to get information out with caution about accuracy.

Q: What can CME providers do to help themselves and their colleagues through this horrific time?

A: Almost everything you hear is about how important it is to continue to do our jobs, to focus on what we do well and do it. That's been very difficult over the past couple of weeks. I find my mind just drifting, not necessarily on the issues of September 11, but on to more metaphysical kinds of things. We've never been in this kind of situation before in the U.S. [It generates] really serious soul-searching questions about where we are and who we are and why we are doing what we are doing.

I think it's important to keep busy. It's also important not to try to downplay or ignore whatever feelings you have. Let them surface, deal with them, put them into perspective — and then go back to what you're doing. All of us have spiritual strategies we use, which certainly have become more important these days. I've brought readings to the office that I usually have only at home. Those kinds of things may be helpful to other people. My personal spiritual strategy has to do with Thomas Merton, a Catholic Trappist monk known for his work on contemplation. That really helps me. The German poet Rilke, whom I just discovered — reading his work is comforting as well.

Another thing providers can do at meetings is provide opportunities for people to contemplate and reflect. Set aside a room for that sort of thing, stocked with readings to help people.

We are all deeply touched by this event. Those of us who have not suffered personal loss still feel it deeply. All of us want to help in some way. I think the best way to help is to do our jobs the best way we can and look for ways we can provide training for people if this sort of thing ever happens again.