Karen and I, the authors of this column, met when we were in Baltimore a couple of years ago for the credentialing ceremony of the National Commission for Certification of Continuing Medical Education Professionals. Karen's organization was undergoing its self-study process at the time, so we discussed the perils and pitfalls, the joys and pain associated with the arduous task of Accreditation Council for CME reaccreditation. The camaraderie begun that day continues to endure because we share a common passion for our industry and ultimately want to see it thrive. We came up with the idea of turning some of our conversations into an article in the hopes that all of our colleagues who read Medical Meetings will initiate similar dialogues with colleagues, friends, and newcomers in CME.

Falling Into CME

Ann: How did you get started working in CME?

Karen: Similar to my other colleagues, CME was something I fell into. I was fresh out of college and was challenged to manage a CME project that entailed working with organ transplant coordinators and nurses and their professional specialty society. I didn't know what CME was when I began, but I really enjoyed working with the learners and was soon bitten by the CME bug. I thought the guidelines were quirky but that they got the job done. And having a conference in the same location as Disneyland sounded great to me!

Ann: I started working for a clinical research organization and was fascinated by all of the work that goes into developing pharmaceuticals. A few years later, I had an opportunity to work for a medical education and communication company. I was actively involved in CME from the activity development and implementation side. I learned to understand and appreciate the CME guidelines so when an opportunity arose to work in CME compliance, I jumped on it. I was excited to be able to learn more about CME guidelines and how to navigate them so that I could demystify the CME process for my colleagues.

Demonstrating Competency

Karen: What are your thoughts about the core competencies for CME professionals that were set forth by the Alliance for CME?

Ann: I think they are a great foundation for what we do as educators — specifically self-assessment and lifelong learning. I have a real passion for both formal and informal education, so I feel like I'm on a lifelong learning journey.

Karen: Competencies are important to CME veterans and newcomers alike, because they are a road map for the individual and for the organization. As CME professionals strive to attain expertise in the various competency areas, it is important to note that provider organizations, as a whole, can overall possess the same expertise throughout its entire staff relative to each person(s) area of responsibility, representing all eight competencies.

Karen: What are you doing internally in terms of training that is linked to specific competencies?

Ann: It's a combination of formal and informal training. Staff are encouraged to participate in webinars offered by the North American Association of Medical Education and Communication Companies, the Alliance for CME, and ACCME as part of self-assessment and lifelong learning. Our formal training program incorporates the core competencies.

Karen: We have annual compliance training based on job function with topics that are matched to the relevant competencies. This is education provided over time — a new lifestyle that we are promoting within our organization. The organization really encourages self-directed learning portfolios to strengthen our own expertise.

From Mentee to Mentor

Ann: Who helped you chart your course in this industry?

Karen: I've been fortunate to establish great mentoring, networking, and friendships with many of my big brothers and big sisters in CME. My first mentors were Linda Raichle, Joseph Green, PhD, and Alice Henderson, and I adopt new mentors as I go. I look for opportunities to mentor newcomers and will never stop being a mentee.

Ann: I want to thank Lawrence Sherman for showing me that CME could be fun and funny! I also owe a debt of gratitude to Sue Pelletier and Tamar Hosansky with Medical Meetings magazine for providing an opportunity to publicly share my CME experiences. I owe my start, passion, and so much of what I've learned in CME to Nathalie Harden, who really showed me that CME is a metaphor for life. I echo Karen's sentiment: Never stop being a student.

Lessons Learned

Karen: What pearls do you have for the newcomers in CME?

Ann: Don't be afraid to ask questions or respectfully challenge conventional wisdom, but also, keep your ears and mind open — you never know from whom or where the answers will come. Extend a hand up to other newcomers.

Karen: Stay abreast of the guidelines, requirements, and standards. Never be afraid to borrow appropriate ideas or formats from other industries. Take into account ideas and concepts from outside this industry and assess their application potential to CME as appropriate.

Ann C. Lichti, CCMEP, is the vice president of health care education strategy for Veritas Institute for Medical Education Inc. Reach her at ann.lichti@veritasime.com.

Karen J. Thomas, CCMEP is the associate director of compliance and accreditation for the Institute for Continuing Healthcare Education. Reach her at kthomas@iche.edu.

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not constitute the views of Veritas Institute for Medical Education Inc. or the Institute for Continuing Healthcare Education.

More of Ann Lichti’s columns:

PI CME Meets Challenging Economy

Strategies for Demonstrating ROE

How CME Activities Can Address Disparities in Healthcare