Thursday, December 11, 2008

The New Certified Continuing Medical Education Professional Credential: Do Medical Writers Need It?

By Johanna Lackner-Marx, MPH, MSW (Guest blogger)

New CME Credentialing Program Launched

Next to regulatory writing, almost nothing seems as daunting to medical writers as continuing medical education (CME). CME has become so specialized that those who work in the CME industry often appear to carry the mystique of highly trained trapeze artists who pass on their unique expertise only to other acolytes entering the field of CME.

When the first credential exclusively for CME professionals was unveiled this fall, many medical writers wondered if they should consider earning the new Certified Continuing Medical Education Professional (CCMEP) designation as a way to gain entrée into CME. The certification was created by the National Commission for Certification of CME Professionals (NC-CME), a independent, non-profit organization created in 2006 by leaders in the CME industry. The NC-CME developed the certification as a standard of competence for persons who create, deliver, or support CME programs for the more than 700,000 physicians in the United States who must take CME to maintain their licensure.

Government Scrutiny Spurs Industry Improvements

The certification will be used by organizations to demonstrate the knowledge and skills of CME staff and to validate the integrity of their education programs to the government, public, and media. This initiative comes in the wake of an investigation by the Senate Finance Committee into allegations of bias stemming from the promotion of unapproved (“off-label”) use medications marketed by the very companies that provided grants to support CME. The Committee found that “…Press reports and documents exposed in litigation and enforcement actions confirm [the allegations] in some instances. There is also evidence from ACCME [the Accrediting Council for Continuing Medical Education that accredits CME providers] that some accredited CME providers still allow commercial sponsors to exert improper influence on educational activities that are supposed to be independent from commercial interests.”

Should Medical Writers Take the CCMEP Test?

Karen Overstreet, EdD, RPh, FACME, CCMEP, president of Indicia Medical Education, LLC, does not believe medical writers need to obtain certification. Overstreet chaired the test-development committee and is now president-elect of NC-CME. “Medical writers make a tremendous contribution to CME. They are the creators of the majority of educational content and their role will remain the same as it is now - developing evidence-based, relevant content and validating it. The test is targeted toward professionals responsible for the creation, administration and implementation of CME or strategic planning and policy development for CME organization.” The professionals Overstreet is referring to include directors of CME departments, senior level management of medical education companies and other provider organizations, and individuals in the pharmaceutical industry who are involved in grant administration.

The test covers principles of adult learning, administration and management of CME, accreditation requirements for providers of CME, and the regulations and guidelines mandated by the multiple government agencies and organizations created to ensure CME is independent and unbiased. “I think it would be unusual for a medical writer to pass the exam unless she had very broad knowledge of topics relevant to the creation, administration and implementation of CME”, Overstreet states.

Besides a comprehensive understanding of CME, medical writers who want to take the certification test must jump another hurdle. Only professionals who meet specific eligibility criteria can apply to take the test. Those seeking the credential must first submit a form summarizing their education, continuing education work experience, and professional development activities. Each element is assigned a point value and only those with the requisite point total are admitted to the exam. “The point of the certification is to document experience and skills, and one must have considerable experience to be considered a ‘CME Professional’.” says Overstreet.

Advice for Medical Writers Interested in CME

The path to CME writing through certification appears to be an arduous and time consuming one and according to Overstreet, not really necessary for medical writers. “But there definitely are specific skills and knowledge that would help medical writers stand out to a CME employer.” These include knowledge of adult learning principles and instructional design, how to make content engaging, and an understanding of how to comply with CME guidelines and regulations.

In addition, Overstreet recommends that writers try to get hands on experience with CME so they can build their resume. The question remains, however, if writers new to CME will be able to find work. According to Overstreet, with pressure from a tightening economy, medical education companies are more likely to assign work to internal staff than to farm it out to freelancers. “When we do contract with freelance writers, we select those we have a history with and who have prior experience in CME.”

New Training Program for Medical Writers Offers Experience Launches in 2009

In January 2009 a new training program will be available specifically for medical writers interested in CME. My name is Johanna Lackner-Marx, MPH, MSW. I am medical writer, like you, and a CME consultant. I created this training program because I recognize the dilemma facing writers trying to enter the CME industry. The program, Becoming a CME Specialist, will be launched on Diego’s website, The program offers content designed to provide the knowledge, skills, and experience writers need to enter the CME industry.

Becoming a CME Specialist is offered at three distinct levels of training that can be taken independently of each other depending on your goals. The basic and intermediate courses are designed to teach the fundamentals of CME with varying degrees of depth, allowing medical writers to determine if CME is right for them and adding to their professional tool box. A third course goes beyond this, providing one-to-one coaching and resources that will be helpful to those who want to start their own CME freelance business.

Coaching Program to Offer Hands on Experience

To enable writers to get the experience they need in order to be competitive in the CME market, I am developing a pilot program that places participants of the coaching program with medical writing companies in an internship situation. This program will be launched in early 2009. I shared my plan for this program with Dr. Overstreet. She told me, “This is an excellent idea. It’s a win-win. I anticipate education companies will line up for this opportunity. They get extra help, and writers get real experience they can put on their resume and a chance to make connections in the industry.”

I look forward to working with any of you who are interested and welcome suggestions to incorporate into the course. You can send questions or suggestions directly to me ( I will respond to you personally and Diego will also post the question and answer on this site.

Click here for more information about the courses.


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