After Announcing in December that it was in the initial phase of developing a medical meeting planner certification program, the Professional Meeting Planner Network, Durham, N.C., began sending a survey to a cross-section of CME and meeting professionals. The survey is designed to refine the body of knowledge about which applicants would be tested. Some of the early respondents to the survey suggested that PMPN's proposal may be in conflict with the professional development activities of the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education, Birmingham, Ala. Rod Abraham, industry veteran and PMPN founder, says, “This suggests that we need to do a better job at communicating what the program is — and what it is not.”

Not Just for CME

The certification is being designed for those who plan medical meetings, regardless of the type of organization they work for — medical association, medical school, pharma company, or medical education company. While some of these planners may also be CME providers, many may not, Abraham says. “It is important to distinguish between our program for all medical meeting planners, not only those involved in CME, and the program to measure competency in all aspects of CME being considered by the ACME. Ours deals with meetings logistics, customized for the medical meeting planner, as well as some of the strategic elements of the Certification in Meeting Management program from Meeting Professionals International, and all aspects of regulatory compliance,” says Abraham.

“Accreditation Council for CME compliance is simply one of the competencies we would be testing, along with knowledge of the PhRMA Code, Food and Drug Administration guidelines, and Office of Inspector General guidelines,” Abraham elaborates. Also, because it focuses solely on meeting planning, and not any of the other myriad channels for CME, “the certification is designed only for the CME manager who implements activities through meetings routes.

“We established early communications with the CEOs of Meeting Professionals International, the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education, and the Convention Industry Council, which offers the Certified Meeting Professional designation,” to help foster collaboration and avoid duplication of other programs, Abraham says. Another reason was to explore possible avenues of partnership, he says. The hope is to exempt those holding a current CMM or CMP designation from the generic meeting management portions of the exam.

The Alliance View

Bruce Bellande, PhD, executive director of the Alliance, would seem to agree that PMPN's efforts don't conflict with what his organization is doing. The Alliance created a task force last year to examine what role it should have in the recognition of CME professionals, he says. “We have decided to focus our efforts on developing competency-based curricula involving self-assessment, which then would link to learning opportunities, based on the Maintenance of Certification model used by medical licensing boards,” rather than a formal certification program.

To date, the Alliance has identified eight general competency areas, with 48 specific competencies identified within those eight areas. Bellande says his organization currently is using expert panels to further delineate how these 48 competencies affect performance. When that is accomplished, the Alliance plans to translate the results into self-assessment modules in those eight areas and link the identified needs to an educational plan. The intent, he says, is to have some type of recognition for someone who has done the self-assessment and implemented an educational plan in each of the areas: “It might result in something like a certificate of mastery,” says Bellande. “It won't be a formal certification program with a test.” And it will focus specifically on CME, not medical meetings that are not CME-related.

More Competition?

The work of the National Commission for Certification of CME Professionals would appear to be more directly in competition with the Alliance's plans in the CME recognition area. Its mission is to raise the bar in CME by establishing “a definitive certification program.” The goals of the program include motivating these individuals to see CME as a desirable career path and assisting employers in recruiting and retaining knowledgeable, compliance-savvy staff, according to the NC-CME's concept proposal and project design documents. The commission says in those documents that a recent Alliance survey found that about half of its members would be in favor of a certified CME designation.

But Bellande says the Alliance doesn't see NC-CME's plans as conflicting with his organization's competency-based educational program. In fact, from his discussions with the commission, Bellande says, “they are very interested in using the Alliance's approach as a basis for their certification.” To date, core competencies the NC-CME designation will test include adult-learning theory, staff development and evaluation; knowledge of regulations and guidelines pertaining to CME; writing pre-test, post-test, and evaluation questions; leadership, teamwork, and negotiation skills; standard business practices (accounting, for example); and legal issues involved in grants, contracts, agreements, copyrights, and intellectual property. The commission also has identified several other elective competencies, including applying for Accreditation Council for CME accreditation, and meeting planning. The NC-CME plans to explain more about its CME certification program at the Alliance for CME's annual meeting in San Francisco in January.

In terms of collaborating on the CME aspects of PMPN's certification program, or with the NC-CME in its efforts, Bellande says that neither program is far enough along in its development to say what, if any, role the Alliance's professional development program — or the MPI or CIC designations, for that matter — could play in the programs. “It's not yet time to have that discussion.”

Editor's note: To participate in the PMPN survey, please visit Medical Meetings also would like to hear your views on the proposed medical meeting planner and certified CME programs. Please share your perspectives with Executive Editor Sue Pelletier at (978) 448-0377;

For Profit, Not for Profit?

Is it appropriate for a for-profit company such as the Professional Meeting Planner Network, Durham, N.C., to take on medical meeting planning certification, or should the job be done by a not-for-profit entity? In an ongoing PMPN content-development survey, respondents questioned the ability of the program to succeed if it's viewed as a self-serving commercial venture, Rod Abraham, industry veteran and PMPN founder, concedes. “We wrestled with this when we first started working on it a year ago.” One reason they didn't want to go the nonprofit route is because, “we'd then would have to go after seed money, and by most reasonable projections, this puppy may never pay for itself,” says Abraham.

“The most optimistic model is that in five years it would become self-sustaining. PMPN at that point would create a nonprofit entity and remove itself from direct control. We're comfortable with that.” In addition, to counter the negative perception as well as to develop the most effective program, PMPN loaded its advisory board with “people who will hold our feet to the fire if we're not doing it right,” including longstanding CME leaders, says Abraham.