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10 Ways to earn AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ CME without watching lectures

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Did you know that you don’t have to attend a presentation or listen to an online lecture to get CME credits? There are many other activities that can earn you AMA PRA Category 1 Credit, which can be used to maintain your board certification, renew your medical license, and meet various other requirements of practicing as a medical professional.

Now is a fitting time to do a post about all the unconventional ways to earn CME credits. In-person CME courses and conferences have either already been canceled this year or are being planned as virtual meetings for next year.

One can only log into so many virtual sessions before experiencing Zoom-fatigue! But, at the same time, many of us are fortunate to have CME funds offered by our workplaces that are “use it or lose it.”

This article discusses 10 different activities through which you can earn CME and – in many cases – get reimbursed for the expenses by your employer.

What is an AMA PRA Category 1 Credit?

Before we jump into all the ways that you can earn CME, it may be helpful to take a moment to review what CME actually is and who makes the decisions about what qualifies as continuing medical education.

There are several bodies that approve activities for CME credit. By far the most recognized by MDs is the American Medical Association’s AMA PRA Credit System. This system aligns with one of the principles in the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, which states:

A physician shall continue to study, apply, and advance scientific knowledge, maintain a commitment to medical education, make relevant information available to patients, colleagues, and the public…

Using this system, the AMA aims to ensure that CME-accredited activities meet certain standards. This is why you often see the phrase “AMA PRA Category 1 Credits TM” rather than just “CME credits” in any document describing continuing education requirements or offerings.

Some licensing or certifying bodies might tack on “or its equivalent” to the end of this phrase, indicating that credits from one of the other CME systems may be acceptable. These other systems include the AAFP Credit System and AOA-accredited CME.

(Of note, the “PRA” in AMA PRA Category 1 Credits TM stands for Physician’s Recognition Award. This is an award offered by the AMA that recognizes physicians who have demonstrated their commitment to patient care and life-long learning through earning CME.)

What about category 2 CME?

Not all CME that is recognized by the AMA qualifies as category 1 CME. AMA PRA Category 2 Credits can be used by physicians in certain situations to count toward the requirements for various licenses, certifications, or other professional endeavors.

Category 2 credits are generally those for which you can’t obtain objective evidence of completion, such as a CME completion certification. These credits are self-claimed and self-documented, but still meet the AMA’s definition of CME, are not promotion, and are worthwhile learning experiences for the practice of medicine.

This can include reading medical literature, precepting a student or resident, conducting research, or consulting with medical experts, as a few examples.

CME activities that aren’t listening to lectures

The most well-known types of CME are live activities (either in-person or by teleconference), medical journal-based CME, and web-based interactive educational modules. Here are 10 other types of activities that you might not have considered as you work to meet your CME requirements and use your CME allotment as an employed physician.

1. Listen to podcasts

The beauty of podcasts, as compared to lectures, is that they’re designed to be processed without the use of accompanying visuals or note-taking. You can listen to them while you’re driving, jogging, or cooking.

Two of the most popular podcasting companies that offer CME-accredited podcasts are Hippo Education and Wolters Kluwer’s AudioDigest.

2. Review or publish a manuscript

I like to volunteer my time as a peer-reviewer for medical journals. But I admit that, when I get a request to review a manuscript in my inbox, my reaction tends to be negative. I’m so busy right now I think to myself. Or Didn’t I just do a review for this journal three weeks ago? Getting CME credits for reviewing manuscripts is a bit of extra motivation to accept a review request.

Generally speaking, the AMA allows for 3 CME credits per journal article reviewed.

Similarly, for those wanting to publish an article but who are having difficulty finding the time to do so, the opportunity to earn CME may be a motivator to finally get it done.

3. Write or review medical test questions

CME can be earned in two ways related to medical test questions:  1) developing them and 2) using them to learn medical material. Physicians get involved with writing medical test questions for a number of reasons:

  • Making tests and quizzes for courses they teach
  • Serving as a question writer for their specialty’s certifying board
  • Volunteering to make educational content for their medical society or other professional organization
  • Working as a writer or reviewer for a test prep company

If you’re studying for a board certification exam, many test prep question banks offer CME credits for completion of the questions that you purchase.

4. Learn at the point of care

Many of you probably already know that that point-of-care tools such as UptoDate, 5MinuteConsult, and DynaMed offer CME. But perhaps you haven’t taken the time to figure out how to actually obtain those credits. It’s actually quite easy and quick. These products keep track of the pages you review while logged into your account. To obtain CME, you simply need to confirm that you read about a clinical topic and answer a few standard CME evaluation questions.

You can earn up to 0.5 CME credits for each clinical question that you answer by reading content in a point-of-care tool.

5. Play video games

Video games and web-based gaming is one of the newest CME formats. These activities are similar to traditional CME-eligible lectures in that they aim to educate the learner about a specific clinical topic; however, they impart this learning through user interaction with a responsive interface.

Level Ex offers a wide variety of app-based video games in cardiology, pulmonology, and gastroenterology. Several of the cases offer free CME. I’ve done a number of the cardiology cases myself, and found it to be both informative and fun (and only mildly cheesy).

6. Complete a performance improvement project

Completing a performance improvement project can earn you 20 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits in a single swoop. Unlike most CME activities, a performance improvement project requires significant activation energy, planning, and follow-through on the part of the physician. Nonetheless, for doctors with an idea for a project and the desire to carry it out, the potential for CME credits is a substantial extra perk.

This CME option may be especially appealing to physicians looking to gain some experience to progress toward a leadership role.

There are specific guidelines for what a performance improvement project needs to entail to be eligible for CME credits, so be sure to consult with AMA guidance.

7. Give a presentation or lecture

You’re familiar with sitting in a audience while you earn CME. But you can also earn it by being the one giving the lecture. Moreover, you can earn CME for the time you spend preparing for the presentation (with some restrictions).

Poster presentations delivered at an activity (such as a conference) that is certified for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit also qualify for CME.

8. Earn another degree

Working toward an MBA, MPH, or other degree as a practicing physician can be demanding. Pair that with all of the ongoing requirements to maintain your licensure and certification, and it can be positively overwhelming. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that obtaining a medically-related advanced degree can count toward CME requirements.

Along those same lines, you can also earn CME if you decide to pursue another residency or fellowship, as long as the program meets certain requirements like being ACGME-accredited.

9. Obtain or maintain a board certification

Completing the requirements for specialty board certification or a board’s MOC process can provide you with CME credits. This can come in especially handy for physicians with CME funds provided by their employers. The fees for board certification and MOC are substantial, so being able to get reimbursed through your CME allotment can save you a lot of money.

10. Take care of your mind, body, and soul

Finally, the qualifying topics for CME activities aren’t limited to diseases and clinical treatments. CME activities can be about the profession of medicine, physician health, and wellbeing. You can earn credits while taking care of yourself, and subsequently be able to take better care of your patients.

If this is of interest to you, take a look at my previous article on virtual wellness CME. Also consider in-person options, such as those offered by Canyon Ranch and The Institute for Physician Wellness.

…and more

Of note, the AMA is open to CME providers introducing new types of CME that use different learning formats, instructional practices, or technologies. So keep your eyes out for CME opportunities different from any of those listed above. There will likely always be new and interesting ways for us to conduct lifelong learning as doctors.

A few words of caution

I hope that you’re inspired by the list above to complete some unconventional types of CME in the upcoming months. I’ll end with a few things to keep in mind as you seek out learning opportunities for yourself.

Activities you can’t do for CME credit

As lenient as the AMA is about what qualifies as AMA PRA Category 1 Credit, they are clear that certain types of professional activities are not eligible for CME credit. Among others, these include:

  • Clinical work
  • Charity or mission work
  • Mentoring
  • Committees and task force work
  • Healthcare facility surveys

When in doubt, verify with the CME provider or consult the AMA rules to see if a particular activity qualifies.

Eligible CME fund activities may differ from AMA PRA Category 1 Credit

Many healthcare organizations offer reimbursement for CME activities to their employed providers. It’s common for physicians to be eligible for $2000 to $6000 per year of CME-related expenses. The employer sets their own policy as to what qualifies for reimbursement.

In most cases, an employee CME allotment can be used for much more than the actual cost of obtaining CME credits. They might cover travel, textbooks, equipment, or medical references, to name a few. They may also have restrictions on the type or location of CME that is reimbursable. Be sure you know what your organization’s policy is.

Non-physician providers have different CME systems

PAs, NPs, dentists, and other types of providers and medical professionals have different CME systems that guide their licensure and certification. Many aspects of these are in alignment with the AMA’s standards; however, there are important differences. If you’re not an MD, be sure check on the nuances of your own profession’s continuing education expectations and requirements.

Physician assistants: National Commission on Certification of PAs national certification

Dentists: American Dental Association CERP

Nurses: American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation

Limits on the amount of atypical CME that will “count”

Depending on what you’re using your CME credits for (eg, state licensure requirements, specialty board MOC), there may be limits on the number of credits of unconventional types of CME that will count toward the requirement.

For instance, my specialty board requires that no more than 25 credits of the total credit requirement be met through scholarly activities such as publishing papers or giving presentations.

So, before you go crazy completing all the fun types of CME listed above, take some time to review the requirements of the boards and organizations to which you’ll be submitting proof of your professional activities.

Have you earned CME in ways other than listening to lectures and presentations? Share you favorites in the comments below!

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