Continuing Education in Medical Careers

Continuing medical education (CME) is an educational requirement for those in medical careers. CME helps medical professionals demonstrate competence and is a way to learn about current and developing issues in specific fields. It is typically a mandate by certification boards, professional societies, and licensing boards. Medical professionals also need CME to maintain their licenses or certifications. CME is measured in continuing education units (CEUs), and one hour of instruction is equivalent to one CEU. In the U.S., the terms continuing medical education and continuing education units are used interchangeably.

CME is not a new concept, as medical professionals have always gathered in groups to continue learning. Medical professionals routinely gather at grand rounds, case discussions, and to present and critique published research articles. Nowadays, CME can be presented in written publications, online programs, conferences, seminars, audio and video programs, webinars, and professional society conventions. Vacation getaways and cruises are some other venues for CME. CME content can be accessed free, or there can be a related monetary fee. Online programs are by far the most popular medium to obtain CME, due to their relative ease, low cost (typically free), and prevalence. In contrast, live events give the advantage of question-and-answer sessions. Debate and controversy are routinely encouraged by these live events. Content for CME is usually developed, reviewed, and presented by influential thought leaders in their respective professional fields.

CME is usually sponsored and underwritten by hospitals, medical schools, other health professions schools, managed care organizations, professional societies, and the pharmaceutical industry. Over the last several decades, CME has been increasingly underwritten by commercial sponsors-mostly drug and medical device manufacturers. The increased funding for CME provided by the pharmaceutical industry, that is, drug and medical device manufacturers, has caused concern about informational bias in the content presented by medical thought leaders. Thought leaders developing, reviewing, and presenting CME content are currently required to disclose any potential financial conflicts of interest. Currently, there are requirements that CME be free of commercial interests. As a result of this controversy, the pharmaceutical industry has also developed specific guidelines regarding drug detailing by pharmaceutical representatives and sponsorship of CME. Many argue that this commercial support should be entirely eliminated from the CME industry.

Last Updated: 05/21/2014