CME events engage members and non-members in local community

Providing physicians with professional development and educational opportunities is important for local Divisions of Family Practice throughout British Columbia. For some divisions, an effective avenue for addressing those needs locally is through continuing medical education (CME) opportunities.

The essential requirements for developing and presenting a CME event are described in a handbook developed by the Continuing Education Nucleus Committee of Doctors of BC, and available from the Doctors of BC website here. The requirements include extensive planning, including completion of a needs assessment, and ensuring the event has no industry bias. The handbook also outlines the process for securing CME accreditation. 

Beyond these general requirements there are further considerations that can help ensure success in planning a local CME event. 

Dr. Shirley Sze of the Thompson Region Division of Family Practice has been organizing CME sessions for her colleagues in Kamloops for the past 20 years. Over that time she has learned a few things about what makes for a successful event. 

“First of all, it helps if your CME event is practical, and even better if it can be fun,” says Dr. Sze, adding that “short, snappy sessions” with lots of useful information tend to be well received. 

Small group workshops using adult learning principles as well as drawing on the experience and expertise of participants can be effective in helping to embed learning into practice, says Dr. Sze. The GPSC’s Practice Support Program (PSP) modules use this approach by adding practice review and quality improvement components to CME activities, to improve physician practices and clinical outcomes. 

It’s also important to choose your CME subjects and presenters carefully. Dr. Sze has used both surveys and focus groups with physicians to identify CME subjects and recommends asking physicians to choose their preferred topic from a given list of potential CME topics. For subject ideas, it can also be instructive to ask specialist colleagues about any knowledge gaps they see in referral patterns that might suggest a need for more information or training for family physicians. 

Once a subject has been identified, Dr. Sze recommends finding the best presenter possible for that topic. However, even with the most careful preparation it’s generally good to have a back-up plan as unexpected cancellations are always a possibility.

For event promotion, Dr. Sze uses brochures and email, and has become used to the fact that with their practice demands, physicians sometimes wait until the last minute before signing up for events. Dr. Sze usually provides reminder notices a week prior to a CME event. 

“For bigger events where you can have large financial commitments to venues and caterers and need to achieve attendance targets to pay the bills, it can get pretty stressful,” says Dr. Sze. “But you have to believe in your planning and that your event will meet the needs of your audience, and trust that they will come.”

In addition to the learning opportunities they provide, Dr. Sze says CME sessions play an important role in building collegial support for physicians in a community, and believes the events should be as inclusive as possible.

“I have found that CME sessions provide a great way to welcome new physicians into the community and support the connectivity of local physicians," says Dr. Sze. “For an evening session the docs usually get to enjoy a good meal while they learn something new or have their knowledge reinforced in a relaxed and friendly setting. It can be a great stress reliever at the end of a very busy day.” 

Although some health authorities have paid CME directors, most local CME organization work is done by unpaid volunteer physicians off the side of their desks. Dr. Sze looks upon her 20 years of CME planning as a contribution to her medical community, and looks forward to mentoring someone new into the role for future events.