Top Questions About CME for Physician Assistants in 2024

December 1, 2023
Was I the only one who thought, “School is finally over!” after finishing PA school? Once I officially became a PA-C, I was under the impression that my learning would only continue as I gained experience in practice.
I quickly realized that this profession is all about lifelong learning—for both didactic and clinical knowledge. I had to face a steep learning curve to understand how to keep my hard-earned certification, including my continuing medical education (CME) requirements. If you are like me, here are a few helpful answers to the top questions about CME for physician assistants.

What is CME?

CME is a form of continuing education that attempts to “keep the iron sharp” and maintain competence by learning new and developing capacities for improving patient care. This can range from in-person conferences to academic journals, audio, video, online webinars, and other media. 

Ultimately, CME must be created and approved by professionals in the medical field. Moreover, it must be free of financial bias (or revealed by the presenter before the CME is discussed) in order to qualify for your certification requirements.

What are the CME requirements for PAs?

As a PA, we must maintain our certification by passing a recertification exam (either the PANRE or PANRE-LA) every 10 years. Furthermore, we must pay a certification maintenance fee and earn CME credits in two-year iterations, totaling five certification “cycles.”

The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) requirement for maintaining certification is 100 CME credits total for every two-year cycle, consisting of at least 50 Category 1 credits (more on the different types of CME credits later).

The remaining 50 credits may be either additional Category 1 CME credits or Category 2 CME credits, or a combination of the two.

What are the different types of CME?
Category 1 CME

Category 1 CME is an educational activity that has been certified or approved by an accreditation agency for use. You can find a list of the agencies approved for Category 1 CME on the NCCPA website.

Examples of Category 1 CME include the following:

  • Regular CME. This type of CME is approved by one of the agencies listed above. Ensure those agencies have approved the activity for Category 1 credit before you proceed!
  • Certification programs. But what about if I take Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) or other Certification Programs? NCCPA has you covered! Check out this PDF for a list of the Preapproved Certification Programs and their CME Category 1 credits!
  • Performance improvement CME (PI-CME)These CME activities are geared toward evaluating patients and improving the quality of your clinical practice. Interestingly, if you need a boost to your CME credit requirement, the NCCPA will double your credits for the first 20 PI-CME earned! If you would like more info, check out this NCCPA search tool.
  • Self-assessment. If you are a scholar provider like myself, this type of CME may be of interest, as you can take a scholarly retrospective review of your own performance to improve your quality of care. The search tool linked above can also help you find which activities qualify for self-assessment.**

**If you are recertifying and opted to take the PANRE-LA, you can earn two (2) Category 1 Self-Assessment CME credits for each quarter in which you complete 25 PANRE-LA questions.

Category 2 CME

Category 2 CME is as an educational activity that relates to the practice of medicine, betterment of patient quality of care, and improvement of the PA. However, this is an elective activity that does not qualify for Category 1 CME criteria above. You can earn Category 2 CME on an hour-by-hour basis by logging activities such as reading medical journals, doing online clinical research, or precepting students.

How do I log my CME credits?

To log your CME credits, sign into your NCCPA portal for your certification cycle. You must provide the title of the program, provider, number of credits, and sponsor for your CME activity.

For more information about logging CME credits, check out this NCCPA step-by-step instruction guide.

How can I find CME opportunities as a PA?

This all brings us to a few final questions: How can I easily earn CME credits? Can I earn CME credits on a budget? Can I earn CME online?

Here are a few of my own “pro tips” for finding CME opportunities:

Pro tip #1: Speak with your employer

Many employers are willing to give you a CME stipend (a business trip that covers your expenses, including conference fees) for your conference. A word to the wise: give plenty of lead time for the conference, a detailed itinerary for your travel, the conference schedule, and other financial details to your employer to maximize your coverage.

If you receive an annual stipend to use for any CME opportunities, you’ll have more flexibility for how to use this money—however, you will still want to plan out your credits well in advance before your CME money expires at the end of the year!

Pro tip #2: Become a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)

If you become an AAPA member (for less than $500 for the year), this will give you access to the recorded sessions of the AAPA conference for that particular year. Additionally, you can save $300 for access to AAPA’s CME On Demand library (priced at $799) with 500 credits of Category 1 CME available. 

Because these activities are asynchronous, your employer can provide the finances to keep you certified while you watch from the comfort of your own home!

Pro tip #3: Earn CME credits while studying for recertification using a Qbank

Qbanks are incredible options for earning CME as a PA, considering you can study for your recertification exam while also earning CME credits. I recommend the Rosh Review PANRE/PANRE-LA Qbank with 2,000 NCCPA-formatted questions following the updated PANRE/PANRE-LA guidelines, including detailed explanations, teaching images, and a performance dashboard. After completing all 2,000 questions, you’ll earn 100 Category 1 CME credits.**

**Learn more about how to earn your CME certificate with a Rosh Review Qbank in this blog post.

Why is CME important?

Here’s an adage that was told to me by a PA that I hold in the highest regard:

“Once you know everything there is to know as a PA, that is the time to retire.” 

While I did not understand this as a student, being a lifelong learner now holds a profound place in my heart. There is no better practice (it is called clinical “practice” for a reason) than to constantly achieve improved knowledge, because our patients deserve it, always!

Rosh Review is the leading Qbank provider for PA programs across the United States. Whether you’re a pre-PA student or PA-C, Rosh Review has something for you along your PA journey. Start a free trial today!

By Frank Ritz, DScPAS, PA-C, MPAS

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