How to Use Your CME Money Before the End of the Year
If you’re a physician or PA-C with an annual allowance to spend on continuing medical education (CME), you should start thinking about how you want to use any balance you have remaining as the end of the year approaches. An important component of working in healthcare is to make sure you are keeping up with new developments in your field, so if you have a stipend to cover CME expenses, it’s a good idea to use it. Here are a few tips to use the allowance, maximize your education experience, and efficiently obtain end-of-the-year CME credits.
First, a bit of terminology
CME comes in many different forms and is converted into units that are termed credits. A credit corresponds to about one hour of educational activities and must be American Medical Association Physician Recognition Award (AMA PRA) credit in order to count. This means the credit is from a program that meets standards set by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) and the AMA, which together regulate CME content and ensure the accuracy and impartiality of CME activity.
You may notice there are two categories of credit. AMA PRA Category 1 credits are the standard credits that you can earn from structured educational experiences. Conversely, AMA PRA Category 2 credits are from self-reported activities such as browsing a medical journal or consulting with colleagues. These credits are usually free to acquire. You are almost certainly going to have to report AMA PRA Category 1 credits to satisfy requirements. In some instances, Category 2 credits may also count toward what you need, so they are worth tracking and reporting.
CME requirements vary across different specialties and states, so you should clarify in advance what you need to complete. Furthermore, some states specify specific content that must be part of your CME like pain management, ethics, or cultural competence. In general, the total amount and types of credits you must submit are easy to find online. Of note, some states and licensing boards historically stipulated that a fraction of your CME requirement come from in-person activities. This was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, but could be reinstated in the future.
How can I obtain CME credit?
CME comes in many different forms:
- A common way people obtain CME credit is by attending accredited meetings or conferences. You verify your attendance and then are provided instructions about how to claim credit for your participation.
- Point-of-care or clinical decision-making resources (e.g., UpToDate or Dynamed) will track the time you’re spending in the interface and offer you CME for a fee.
- Interacting with online resources like videos or lectures, attending webinars, or listening to a podcast can be efficient means of accruing credits. You will usually need to pass an assessment at the end to claim your credit.
- Completing question banks is one of the most effective ways to learn medicine and also can count. For example, Rosh Review has high-quality banks of content to learn efficiently and acquire CME quickly. You can answer educational questions for up to 100 AMA PRA Category 1 credits.
Some less well-known methods of obtaining AMA PRA Category 1 credits (with accurate documentation and a processing fee) include the following:
- If you are the first author on a peer-reviewed publication, this is usually worth 10 credits. The first author listed on a poster presentation can earn 5 credits.
- Becoming board certified or passing a maintenance of certification (MOC) exam is worth 60 credits. For many, this is most if not all of what you would need for the year.
- If you obtain a master’s degree or a doctorate in a field relevant to medicine, this is worth 25 credits.
How should I spend my end-of-the-year CME allowance?
If you are provided one by your employer, your CME allowance is a yearly stipend to obtain credit. The first step to using this is determining how much CME you need and the options available to you. Beyond that, you should choose programs that look interesting to you from the above menu.
Notably, you also need to think about time. CME money usually does not roll over, which should incentivize you to use their funds before they expire at the end of the calendar year. If you have many funds available without much time to use them, you might want to pursue an at-home, online option rather than coordinate last-minute travel to a conference.
The price of an educational experience relative to the number of credits you receive for it can vary, so you should budget appropriately. Furthermore, what is covered may vary depending on the instructions specified by your employer. For example, you may have to book through a travel agency or stay at a certain hotel depending on the rules your employer has made. Just make sure you know the regulations in advance, so you don’t end up with a surprise nonreimbursable bill.
Your employer coordinates the process of submitting for reimbursement and usually amounts to providing itemized receipts of your expenses. You should document what you spend throughout the year to make sure your submissions are not rejected. If you go over your allowance, this will usually not be reimbursed, so also keep in mind how many funds you have remaining before making another purchase.
The importance of planning ahead
Ultimately, make sure to inform yourself about the type and quantity of CME you need to complete each year and the amount of funds you will have to cover this. Planning ahead is the best way to make sure you maximize your allowance without incurring expenses you have to foot yourself. And above all, don’t forget that CME should be a rewarding experience. Beyond just the excitement of going to conferences or networking over webinars, maintaining the knowledge and skills you have while learning more about your field will make you into an even better medical professional.
Rosh Review is a board review company providing Qbanks that boosts your confidence for your boards and beyond. Find a Qbank in your specialty including CME, practice questions, explanations, images, and more.