The Case: An hour before her organization’s symposium (a satellite to a national conference) is scheduled to begin, Continuing Medical Education Director Connie Compliance gets a frantic phone call from her meeting coordinator, Annie Anxious. Norman Nasty, the account executive for the grantor’s public relations agency, has been rearranging the seating in the meeting room and rudely barking orders at Annie.

Connie rushes to the meeting room and finds Norman demanding that more chairs be brought in because he anticipates that walk-ins will greatly exceed the pre-registration guarantee. Connie explains that her team is responsible for the meeting logistics, and Norman replies that if Annie and her colleagues were doing their jobs, he wouldn’t have to.

Annie leaves the room, counts to 10, and tries to determine how to salvage her team’s relationship with the grantor.

Push Back or Push On?
Do the PR executive’s actions violate the Standards for Commercial Support?
Overstreet: Provider staff are often in a state of high anxiety as they are setting up and conducting final content reviews with faculty. While this scenario makes me queasy, it is important to acknowledge that this is not a violation of the SCS—the actions did not influence content. However, Norman’s behavior is still troubling and inappropriate. The added stress of interference from supporter affiliates—even when compliance is not at risk—only compounds the provider staff’s burden.

Parochka: Although providers often complain about regulations in continuing medical education, including those published by Office of the Inspector General, the Food and Drug Administration, PhRMA and AdvaMed, it is generally advantageous to be able to quote chapter and verse from a compliance document, when possible. Unfortunately, in this case, since there are no violations, there are no regulations to turn to. There is no book titled, Ms. Manners’ Etiquette for CME Professionals.

How should Connie and Annie handle this situation?
Overstreet: While it is never easy to deal with loud and obnoxious colleagues, it’s key that Annie and Connie maintain their composure and professionalism.

Parochka: You’re right—things can get out of hand and become downright embarrassing, especially if participants are present. Connie has one primary concern at the moment—diffuse the tension. She should guide Norman to a private corner and explain that corrections will be made and problems will be solved, while maintaining a professional demeanor.

How can similar situations be prevented in the future?
Overstreet: Providers should be sure they have adequate staff on site to prepare for the activity and that everyone’s roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Those responsible for meeting planning should have alternate plans to adjust the setup based on actual attendance.

Parochka: The best rule to follow in terms of on-site logistics is to arrive early and plan to leave late. Arriving at the meeting room well before starting time can help avoid a crisis. Staff members can determine whether the room is set up correctly, enough chairs are available for unanticipated participants, audiovisual equipment is working properly, and there are enough handouts to accommodate walk-ins. As Benjamin Franklin, the father of adult education, once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Overstreet: Also, the provider should clearly articulate appropriate roles for supporter (and affiliate organization) staff and share its policies for interactions well before the conference. And all supporter representatives should sign in with the provider before the event.

Karen Overstreet, EdD, RPh, FACME, CCMEP, is
executive director, instructional design and outcomes with Medscape Education, Blue Bell, Pa. Reach her at

Jacqueline Parochka, EdD, FACME, is president and CEO, Excellence in Continuing Education Ltd., Gurnee, Ill.; and partner, PTR Educational Consultants. Reach her at

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