When I graduated with a bachelor of science in health sciences in 2000 from the University of Nevada, Reno, I had no idea where it would take me. While I didn’t aim directly for continuing medical education, a series of events landed me in the healthcare field, and I eventually was promoted to associate administrator of the CME program at the Institute for Medical Quality, a subsidiary of the California Medical Association. IMQ is the largest state accreditor in the nation, with more than 300 CME providers.

It wasn’t quick or easy to learn about CME—it often felt as if I was learning a new language full of terms like gaps, and needs, and relevant financial relationships. Eventually, though, with mentoring from some wonderful, patient leaders in CME, I became confident about my CME knowledge and skills. I was able, in turn, to help providers by explaining those same terms that used to plague me, and to assist them with their own programs. When I didn’t have the answers, I knew I could turn to my committee, surveyors, and colleagues.

In time, I became fairly well known to California’s CME providers. I was a medium-sized fish in a relatively small pond.

Making the Change
Then I accepted an opportunity to become the manager of continuing medical education for the American College of Phlebology, which serves those who study veins and venous disease. The ACP recently received provisional accreditation from the ACCME and brought me on board to expand their CME program.

Having been an accreditor, I know the rules—and I know what happens when the rules aren’t followed. But now that I’m a CME provider, I have to know more than just gaps and needs; I have to learn all that is involved in planning CME activities in clinical medicine. I have to modify what is already in place in the program while ensuring that it remain in compliance with all the accreditation criteria. I started at Criterion 1 and have worked my way through, modifying policies, procedures, and forms for each criterion as needed to keep the program both compliant and able to meet our educational mission. A great thing about working for a brand-new provider is that I can ensure the program is developed correctly—and compliantly—from the beginning.

But the transition to being a very tiny fish in a very large CME pond isn’t easy. I am the one who has to have all the answers, but some of the questions I’ve never come up against before. I don’t have anybody to e-mail my random, important questions to. They are questions for which I can’t find answers on the Accreditation Council for CME Web site or through an Internet search, questions that don’t seem important enough to ask the ACCME about, but that still are crucial to our program. But answer them I must, because I have to justify every nuance of the accreditation criteria and Standards for Commercial Support to those involved in planning—it’s not enough to say “because it will be out of compliance” anymore.

My new, larger pond is a place I’m just beginning to explore. It’s teeming with providers who are doing amazing CME activities. But from my experience on the accreditor side, I also know I’m swimming with some who believe that because so-and-so does it, it must be right. I want to reach out to my peers, but I don’t want to be the one to ask stupid questions or rock the boat (and it seems pretty choppy out there sometimes).

So what have I learned?
1. I don’t know everything. (Not that I didn’t know that before, but it’s always a shock to be reminded.)
2. Change is good. I am seeing a whole new side of CME that allows me to rethink how I’m doing things and how things need to be done.
3. I can’t be afraid to ask questions. In the past, people came to me with questions. Now I’m the one doing the asking.
4. I need to start flexing my fins and networking. I have to learn to reach out to those I don’t know. I think we can learn from one another.

Pam Beaton is the manager of continuing medical education with the American College of Phlebology. She previously served as the CME program’s associate administrator with the Institute for Medical Quality, a subsidiary of the California Medical Association. She can be reached via e-mail at pbeaton@acpmail.org.

For more articles related to continuing medical education, visit our Medical Meetings special report.