My wife, Mary Lou, and I retreat each summer to our cabin in the Lake Wobegon region of Northern Minnesota. This renews us both spiritually and intellectually; and so it is the perfect place to write about the topics covered in this issue of: speaker honoraria and meetings in international destinations. We used to have a café nearby until the owner, George (not her real name), began putting ordinary expenses under the heading of capital improvements. While her logic was better than WorldCom's (using 24-packs of Coke products to block the door open is way different that trying to fool people about the company's worth), these actions nevertheless spelled her demise. Out of business, she bartered to reduce her inventory. She got hay to feed her horses for lime jello salads, for example, and that got me thinking.
Will Speak for Drugs
Why not pay speakers at CME meetings in pharmaceuticals? A new speaker, for example, might be given expenses plus a lifetime supply of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, whereas a really famous international expert might be given options on drugs sold to Canada or Mexico that are to be re-imported. Beyond the civic duty done by the experts in teaching physicians about the latest diagnostic and therapeutic strategies, these speakers would also contribute to the company's bottom line (and so the nation's economy) by exercising their options.
Of course, the quid pro quo doesn't have to be as valuable as a lifetime supply of pharmaceuticals. Pediatricians could talk in return for pads of paper that would be much valued in childcare centers in hospitals. I suspect the little kids would also appreciate those flashlights that fit in lab coat pockets. Can you just imagine how much fun 30 or 40 toddlers might have turning the flashlights on and off and using them to look in all the dark places they can find?
Speakers Just Wanna Have Fun
But seriously, folks, bartering once worked out well for Mary Lou and me several winters back, and this is where the international meetings thing comes in. A Canadian specialty society invited me to do a workshop on how adult learning could be applied to their CME offerings. I told them Mary Lou was a degreed educator who knew as much about how adults learn as I do, and so we'd both do the teaching if they paid her expenses as well, and they could forget the honorarium. This wouldn't have been ethical, of course, if ML hadn't had the credentials to do the teaching. The idea that if one professor is good, two must be better (at less cost, too) swayed the specialty society, and they asked us both to come ahead. That was when I called Mary Lou to tell her the good news.
She'd be happy to do the workshop, she said, but the winter dates conflicted with her class schedule. She asked if they could move the workshop forward a week so it would correspond with spring break at the University of North Dakota. That wasn't possible, I told her, because the meeting had been planned for quite a while. “Besides,” I said, “The meeting is at a Caribbean resort.” Mary Lou looked out her office window at snow swirling about in minus-10 degree temperatures, and said, “There isn't anything I can teach my students that week that someone else can't teach them.” Problem solved. What's more, the workshop was a big success by all accounts. I know we sure enjoyed it.
As I mentioned, bartering for a spouse's expenses only works when the spouse can contribute in a substantive way to the educational activities. Beyond that, there are always pharmaceuticals, coffee mugs, pens, flashlights, and who knows what all else. The sum and substance of it all is that bartering needs to be considered as a way to address the problem of paying speakers.
Henry B. Slotnick, PhD, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, conducts research on how physicians learn. He has been recognized by the Alliance for CME with several awards for his contributions to CME. Send your questions or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.