The present system for submitting proposals for commercial support can be time-consuming and difficult. While project cost is certainly important to the grant-review process, supporters are interested primarily in assuring that the CME provider's needs assessment is comprehensive and current, the objectives are appropriate to the activity, faculty have the proper credentials, the activity is independently planned and managed, adult-learning principles are applied, content is evidence-based, and outcomes measurement is included. That, however, does not mean that providers who want to submit proposals for consideration need to operate in an information vacuum. There is a better and relatively easy way to improve the process.

Can We Talk?

For small grant requests where the project parameters are relatively straightforward, the online grant-application process that has been adopted by many pharmaceutical companies will probably suffice. But proposals for educational grants above $50,000 are generally complex, and it's not easy, or even possible, to communicate the details in an online application.

A better way to fully describe the proposed educational model and to use resources effectively is for the provider and the supporter to meet beforehand to conduct a top-line discussion of the grantor's interest areas; educational focus; delivery preferences, e.g., live or electronic; timelines; and budget. Armed with this general overview but without suggestions from the pharma company about content, faculty, learning objectives, media, or venue, the provider can then develop a plan for an independent, balanced, and objective activity based on sound scientific method.

With this process, grantors are likely to receive more thoughtful proposals that are within their budgets. Providers are spared the time and expense of preparing “soup to nuts” proposals that are rejected because they are out of synch with the grantor's expectations. If for example, a proposal recommends live events as the best way to assure physician learning while the grantor believes that live events are passé, the provider has little chance of receiving the grant.

No Guarantees

Advance discussion between commercial supporters and CME providers, as permitted within applicable guidelines, will result in less misdirected and unproductive effort and produce a more targeted learning experience. However, there cannot and should not be any a priori guarantees to CME providers that the project will be funded because discussions have been held. Also, it is absolutely acceptable for supporters to seek proposals from multiple providers.

When the proposal is ready for submission, the provider, if required, can create a synopsis statement for the online application with the assurance that specifics will be defined in the lengthier proposal document.

Often providers do not know why proposals are rejected and then offer the same approach in subsequent proposals. The process will be more effective, collaboration strengthened, and proposals — and ultimately education — improved, if grantors tell providers exactly why the proposal was rejected. Just as we modify educational events based on post-event evaluation, so can we improve the proposal process by sharing information.

Robert F. Orsetti is assistant vice president, continuing education, University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark. Orsetti, a 30-year CME veteran, is a member of the AMA's National Task Force on CME Provider/Industry Collaboration. Contact him at (973) 972-8377 or send e-mail to For more of his columns, visit The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of UMDNJ or its CME office.