More Than a Formality: Continuing Medical Education and Its Role in Physician Success
Like many other professions, doctors are required to undergo a certain number of continuing medical education (CME) credit hours per year in order to maintain their licensure. For many physicians, this seems an onerous burden, one that requires them to take time out of their practice, or even out of their personal lives, in order to satisfy a bureaucrat’s needs for yet more paperwork.
However, there is actually demonstrable need for continuing medical education across all medical specializations. It is not just a formality mandated by an uncaring government or yet another hoop to jump through set by a medical board intent on weeding out as many people as possible. Continuing medical education offers a number of advantages for physicians, their patients, and their practices as a whole.
The Need for Continuing Medical Education
Physicians must undergo years of study in order to enter the medical profession in the first place. Multiple years of college are needed before an individual is even accepted to medical school, and then there are six more years of study to earn your initial credentials. After that, you face multiple years of additional study depending on your desired specialization. For most doctors, the situation looks like this: four to five years in pre-med preparation, followed by four additional years of medical school, and then another three to seven years spent in residency.
That’s an immense amount of your life spent involved with education programs, and it is easy to see why doctors would like to be done with education once they complete their initial run of courses. However, not only is that the wrong attitude to have, failure to comply with CME requirements could result in suspension or even revocation of your license. That’s not to mention the harm you might be doing your patients, and your practice as a whole.
So, why the need for continuing medical education for doctors? Simply put, the medical industry advances at an ever-increasing pace. New tools, new techniques, and new medical devices and products come to market regularly. Each of those requires new knowledge on the part of physicians. As Dr. Yeshvant Nvalgund, co-founder of National Bioskills Laboratories, explained in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The last thing you want is a physician practicing what they learned 20 years ago.”
He is backed up by Melanie Fisher, assistant dean for continuing medical education at West Virginia University School of Medicine. She explains, “The purpose is lifelong learning once they’ve finished training. The technology has exploded and the types of procedures that are available is phenomenal.”
CME can be provided for virtually anything, from how to utilize new artificial joint replacements and spinal devices to the use of surgical robots to new surgical techniques pioneered in recent years. It represents the means for physicians to continually hone their skills and stay current with the market, and to ensure their patients have access to the latest, most beneficial treatment options. It is also about safety and improved health outcomes for patients. Finally, it can also be about improving a medical practice in any number of ways.
Digging Deeper into Continuing Medical Education for Physicians
Obviously, CME for physicians revolving around medical devices, medications, surgical procedures and techniques, imaging technology and the like is highly beneficial for both physicians and their patients. It allows physicians to be more competitive in an increasingly saturated field, while simultaneously offering patients improved health outcomes. However, there are additional benefits here.
A study conducted in 2014 and published through the Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology focused on best practices in continuing professional development. The study’s authors found that, “Continuing professional development (CPD) involves not only educational activities to enhance medical competence in medical knowledge and skills, but also in management, team building, professionalism, interpersonal communication, technology, teaching, and accountability.”
All of these areas foster better professional success for physicians completing their CME units, but also those who work with and for them within hospitals and private practices. Continuing medical education can lead to improved workflows within medical settings, reducing wait times for patients, but also improved working conditions for professionals working with physicians, and more.
Who Pays for Continuing Medical Education?
Continuing medical education comes at a cost, and that can be quite high in some instances. So, who’s on the hook for footing that bill? Is it you, the doctor? Actually, the answer here is “it depends”. On what does it depend? Many factors are in play, but some of them include the area of CME, and the employment situation of the physician in question.
Yes, some physicians, particularly those in private practices, will need to pay for their continuing medical education on their own. However, physicians working in partnership with and within a larger medical facility may find their employer is willing (or even mandated) to pay for their CME. The Virginian-Pilot reported on this in July 2018, noting that “nearly 40% of healthcare employers are offering continuing education to allied health professionals.”
A study conducted by Rebecca Pifer and published through Healthcare Dive found that “Pharmaceutical and medical device company contributions accounted for 28% of continuing medical education (CME) funding last year, according to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education 2017 annual report.”
With that being said, qualifying CME courses are the most important part of the equation for physicians. Paying for those courses is a secondary concern, as it can be challenging to find CME courses that do not require physicians to retool their lives to make time for yet more education. Locating educational channels that harness modern technology and take a blended learning approach can offer significant benefits and advantages to physicians.
Ultimately, physicians must adopt a lifelong learning mentality, and understand the importance of CME not only for their licensure, but for their success, and for the most positive outcomes in terms of patient care.