Sometimes it takes someone outside a particular environment to truly analyze it. This is what happened to me on a recent plane flight after I described what I did for a living.

While hard at work on my laptop on Virgin Atlantic flight VS026 recently, the flight attendant who kept my coffee cup filled with decaf asked me what I was working on so fervently. I explained that I was preparing a presentation about continuing medical education and specifically about the methods used to assess educational needs within the target audiences. In an amazingly simple and eloquent manner, the flight attendant, Allison Harris, summed up continuing medical education in one word: relevant.

Spell Out the Strong Points

In nearly 15 years of involvement in CME, I had never looked at it in this way. I am not saying that I had felt that CME was irrelevant, but the use of the word made me think, and it really does capture CME as it should be.

It is relevant because it is based on true needs, so it is relevant to the learners. It is relevant because there can be a positive impact on patient care, based on the degree of learning and level of objectives. It is relevant because it has a purpose, and a measurable outcome. It is relevant because it is not something disguised as education — as some detractors charge.

I went on to sum up the definition of relevant CME in the presentation that I was working on during that flight. It read quite simply on a PowerPoint slide:

  • Reaches all potential target audiences
  • Education is the foundation and remains so
  • Learner-centric
  • Easily understood
  • Varies based on needs and preferences
  • Adult learning principles used
  • Needs continually assessed
  • Timeline of patient care continuum considered

Measuring Up

Having someone as wise as Allison Harris point out to me that CME is relevant made me think even more deeply about what I do for a living. If the CME activities that I help to design, develop, and deliver meet the relevant criteria, then what I do must be relevant as well.

Working in CME, regardless of role or job title, is relevant for many of the same reasons that CME itself is relevant. There are some who believe that those in the for-profit sector should not be providers of CME. Well, this is true if they are irrelevant; but if you meet the relevant criteria, and you are confident that the educational interventions that you are developing are relevant as well, then you are relevant. And you should be able to keep doing what you are doing, without fear that external forces will deem you irrelevant. For those providers that are irrelevant, then I say au revoir.

Folks, I know that I am relevant. Are you?

Lawrence Sherman, FACME, CCMEP, is president and CEO of Physicians Academy for Clinical and Management Excellence, New York. A 15-year CME veteran, 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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