As a CME professional, not only must you ensure that your activities are planned and implemented in accordance with Accreditation Council for CME guidelines, but you must also navigate pharmaceutical companies' new computer-driven grants systems, which are more complex and more time-consuming. In academic environments, finances are tight, and professionals are asked to do more with less. Less funds, less staff, less time! In the private education arena, organizations are working harder, and not necessarily smarter. Turnover in CME is at an all-time high, and finding educated, knowledgeable staff is challenging.

What does all this mean for you? You may find that you are working longer hours, fighting for funding that appears to be nonexistent, drafting lengthy proposals for support of activities, and working with faculty who are short on time and take longer to respond to requests. In other words, you may be experiencing CME burnout. In fact, the CME enterprise is experiencing an epidemic of burnout. We have a few ideas on how to help.

  • Minimize paperwork. Develop an online system to streamline paperwork, freeing up time normally associated with activity documentation. For example, develop systems for online evaluation, automated conflict-of-interest management, and faculty forms. Also, you'll eliminate the need to manually record evaluation summaries and other information by developing an evaluation system that links directly to the database for storage of credits for participants.

  • Bring in the temps. Use temporary workers when possible to reduce the workload of employees who are reaching burnout. You can use the temp labor for activity material preparation, shipping activity materials to hotels or other locations, and many other duties.

  • Outsource. Decide what your CME office excels at and outsource the other tasks to people with the necessary expertise. As a side note, as you implement the Alliance for CME's staff competencies, you may want to develop in-house educational expertise and begin to outsource logistical matters. But for today, many organizations outsource such tasks as marketing, graphic services, IT services, medical writers, etc.

  • Take wellness breaks. Set aside five minutes several times a day to get up and walk around, get some fresh air, stretch, or close your eyes.

  • Look at the bigger picture annually when you review your entire CME program. Ask yourself these questions:

    Do we have enough resources to meet our obligations and our CME mission? If not, what can we move to next year, or abort?

    Can we shift priorities to better meet our mission and still maintain energy and enthusiasm?

    Do we have resources to bring in new staff or use temporary help? If so, how can we recruit the appropriate personnel? Can we afford to bring in a trainer to train new staff?

    As an organization, what can we do to support our employees so they do not burn out?

  • Acknowledge the work of your employees. Reward your team members based on performance and attainment of goals.

  • Set realistic achievement goals for employees during annual reviews. Setting the stage for overachieving on a constant basis contributes to burnout.

  • Save extra long work days for really important projects. Don't expect 12-hour work days of your employees on a daily basis.

Acknowledging the issues is the first step to resolving them. Team meetings and memos to staff acknowledging the need to avoid burnout show a commitment to the CME professional and that the organization is aware of the problem and the need to find a fix. In addition, remember that communication is the key to finding what will work within your organization.

Steven M. Passin is president of the CME consulting firm, Steve Passin & Associates LLC in Newtown Square, Pa. He has also served as deputy health secretary for California. Contact him at Susan O'Brien is senior associate, Steve Passin & Associates LLC. Contact her at