AS YOU PROBABLY read in “No Time for CME,” Medical Meetings, January/February issue, young physicians are emerging as a whole new category of learners. They have different styles, different preferences, and a wide range of participation levels when it comes to CME activities. MM's survey of physicians' CME preferences found that just 75 percent of physicians under age 45 had attended a CME activity in the past 12 months, compared to 98 percent of their older peers.

To find out more about the learning habits of young physicians, I spoke with Tom Easley, executive director of publishing and marketing, New England Journal of Medicine, Waltham, Mass. He pointed out several trends in learning styles for young doctors, which could help explain their shift in CME participation.

The 80-Hour Work Week

In July 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education issued new guidelines to restrict doctors-in-training to 80 hours of work per week, averaged over a month. That might still seem like a long week to most of us, but these restrictions on “work” also include learning time. These new regulations are causing a ripple effect in the way young physicians learn to manage their time and integrate their CME. One important trend to note is that these docs are “going mobile.”

“We are dealing with a generation that was fully raised on electronic media,” says Easley. “These young physicians are more likely to do their learning, searching, and reading using technology and online tools. A lot of young physicians rely on point-of-care [technology] tools for just-in-time information and as a result may be less likely to seek [other information] channels. These tools have greatly enhanced point-of-care learning and are raising the standard among young physicians and residents. On the other hand, they certainly represent a challenge for traditional teaching and learning techniques.”

Small Doses of CME

So what can educators do to attract these busy young doctors? MM's physicians survey found that respondents' No. 1 objection to attending CME activities was that they are just too busy to spend time away from the office. Easley agrees, “We have found that the key to attracting younger physicians to our online CME programs is convenience. We had a traditional print CME program that was given biannually. It's a heavy, dense program with a full semester's worth of content. Our older physicians still love this experience — they get a large dose of CME in one shot. But our younger learners don't like it. It takes too much time. So we broke the larger program into smaller packets of information.”

Readers now have the option to take CME exams one article at a time. They read a single study, answer three CME questions, and gain one hour of credits. Best of all, it's completely portable. These small packets of CME can be taken online or on a PDA (personal digital assistant). Future designs could even include options to take the test over a PDA phone.

Integrating a virtual element into your live CME program could also help draw in younger learners. You might add a satellite broadcast of your live program and make it available on the Web, or create spin-off workshops beamed into hospitals. Consider posting your talks on your Web site, or providing an e-newsletter with key take-away messages.

Those who integrate technology into their CME events — and reach out to make younger physicians aware of their programs electronically — will reap the benefits of brand loyalty from this very wired, very busy, and very lucrative generation.




Jennifer Goodwin is president of The Goodwin Group, a global medical communications consulting agency in Arlington, Mass. You can contact her at goodwingroup@comcast.net.