The word discipline has so many meanings, especially when it relates to CME. For example, it could refer to the various disciplines we are tasked with educating. So does discipline mean specialty? Or profession? Or perhaps a mix of the two? What does it mean when we talk about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary education? And how does transdisciplinary education—a term that was new to me until I heard it at the recent Alliance for CME conference in San Francisco—fit into the picture?

As I began preparing for a session for the Alliance meeting that I was developing with my colleagues Brian McGowan, PhD, with Pfizer, and Jason Singer, PharmD, with Lilly, I soon realized that the abstract we had submitted for a one-hour session on multidisciplinary education was going to be more complicated than we thought. We each had our own preconceived definitions of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. It quickly became evident that we needed to standardize the definitions of these terms before we could move forward.

The Team Factor
As we talked, the concept of team-based education came to the forefront, and that had its own complexities. We needed to think about how some teams work in closed systems (think operating room), where the team is known to each other and operates together in a fixed environment. We also thought about educating teams that come from different systems (think small-group sessions at a national or regional meeting), where each learner works in a different environment with different rules, settings, equipment, and processes. And then there are closed systems whose disparate teams need to interact with each other, but often learn separately (for example, those who work in the emergency department and the cardiac catheterization lab when treating a patient with an acute coronary syndrome).

The educational needs of these different types of teams certainly differ, as do the methodologies needed to address any identified needs and professional practice gaps. And then we had to address how to evaluate the impact of the education. There were many questions, and, arguably, many valid answers. Now, what to do with the one-hour session?

Real-Time Needs Assessment
We chose to open the session with a real-time needs assessment of the audience to determine where they were with the definitions and practicalities related to multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary education. The audience did not disappoint. Despite the session being on the last day of the conference, it was well-attended and the participants were engaged and interactive. We discussed various existing learning models as well as ideas and concepts for future educational activities. We presented the participants with two different case studies as the basis for discussion, and solid ideas about how to address the challenges of the cases emerged.

In the end, though, what really became apparent during the session was that we need ongoing dialogue about the consistent and appropriate use of the terms multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary. While definitions of these terms abound in other literature, there is little information about how they apply specifically to CME. We need to set up a base of evidence, starting with definitions, moving into best practices, and eventually showcasing these various practices.

The next step we would like to take is to provide an intensive session at the 2012 Alliance meeting, where Brian, Jason, and I bring in additional expert faculty and use small-group sessions, case studies, and standardized data-collection tools to address this topic in greater depth. Do you agree? What more could we do? Write to me at with your ideas.

Lawrence Sherman, FACME, CCMEP, is senior vice president, educational strategy, with Prova Education, an affiliate of Omnia Education, Fort Washington, Pa. He is a frequent lecturer on topics related to the strategic development, dissemination, and evaluation of CME activities. Reach him at

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