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CME in the time of COVID-19

By Jacqueline Posada, MD, Clinical Psychiatry News, March 18, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, it now seems like the norm is that large medical conferences are being canceled.
Dr. Jacqueline Posada, consultation-liaison psychiatry fellow with the Inova Fairfax Hospital/George Washington University program in Falls Church, Va.
Dr. Jacqueline Posada

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) canceled its 2020 annual meeting, which was scheduled for late April. The cancellation disappointed many, because we will miss out on the camaraderie and professional invigoration that comes from gathering with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals from across the United States and around the world. After the APA’s decision was announced, the White House released guidelines advising Americans to avoid social gatherings of 10 or more people.

On a practical level, many psychiatrists will not be able to earn up to 35 continuing medical education credits (CME) from attending the meeting and fulfilling the administrative requirements to obtain a CME certificate. Not only have meetings been canceled, but events many other clinicians count on for CME, such as journal clubs and department grand rounds, have been canceled until they can be moved to a virtual space.

The CME requirements for state medical licenses vary widely. On average, most states require at least 25 credits per year or 60 to 100 credits every 2 years, and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology requires diplomates to complete an average of 30 specialty and/or subspecialty CME credits per year, averaged over 3 years. Usually, annual medical conferences would be a great way to get an infusion of CME credits, brush up on cutting-edge treatments, and review the basics.

On top of everything else we have to worry about with COVID-19, getting enough CME credits has been added to the list for many psychiatrists and mental health clinicians. A public health emergency like COVID-19 is a time for flexibility and thoughtful planning. As our schedules and daily lives are disrupted, it’s important to find relief in routine activities that are not affected by social distancing and fears of isolation and quarantine. A routine activity to lean into might include learning or practicing a skill that we enjoy, such as psychiatry (hopefully!) and the practice of medicine. The CME could be focused on a psychiatric topic or perhaps learning about the specifics of COVID-19 or brushing up on medical knowledge that might be a bit rusty after many years of practicing solely psychiatry.

As you start to gather CME credits online, it’s helpful to sign up for a service that stores your CME credits and helps you keep track of the number. When it comes time to renew your medical license or apply for maintenance of certification (MOC), who wants to be the person searching through their email for PDFs of CME certificates or taking pictures or scanning paper certificates? The APA has a section under education and MOC to track certificates earned by watching online modules from its “Learning Center.” The website also allows users to upload external certificates. The American Medical Association offers a similar service on its “Ed Hub,” in which users can log in to watch, listen, or download articles to earn CME credits after finishing the associated quiz. Medscape, in the CME and Education section, also offers an easy-to-use CME dashboard, in which clinicians can filter by their specialty, topic, duration of learning activity – ranging from 0.25 to 3 CME credits. Clinicians also can track their credits as they complete activities.

If you’re someone who’s having trouble focusing on anything besides COVID-19, there are COVID-19-specific CME activities that are available and can help psychiatrists feel comfortable talking with patients, family, and their institutions about the risks of COVID-19. The AMA Ed Hub has a featured 8-credit CME course about the novel coronavirus with updates about diagnosis, treatment, and public health strategies.
For the psychiatrists who may have procrastinated in-depth learning about the opioid crisis or getting their buprenorphine waivers, AMA Ed Hub offers a 42-credit course about opioids and pain management covering guidelines, research, and treatment.

For fun refreshers on general medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine offers up to 20 online CME exams based on quizzes from interesting clinical cases ranging from “regular” medicine to rare clinical scenarios. The APA Learning Center has an easy-to-use search function allowing users to select content from more than 200 modules covering a wide range of general topics; from reviewing recent treatment guidelines to specialized psychiatric topics such as geriatric bipolar disorder. A psychiatrist who has been quickly pushed to telepsychiatry because of the current pandemic could use the APA Learning Center to find educational modules about risk management in telepsychiatry or learn the special considerations of using telepsychiatry to treat patients with serious mental illness.

Using podcasts to earn CME is becoming increasingly common, with such as outlets as JAMA Networks offering podcasts in many specialties in which subscribers can take a quiz through the JAMA app and obtain CME credits.

As our clinical boundaries as psychiatrists are pushed by an ever-changing public health situation, now is the time to earn CME focused on new topics to meet the demands placed on health care workers at the front lines of clinical care.

If the COVID-19 pandemic reaches the number of cases predicted by public health officials, our health care system is going to be under extreme stress. All specialties face the threat of losing part of their working capacity as clinicians get sick with the virus, or as they stay home because of exposure or to take care of a loved one. It’s a time for flexibility but also to flex our muscles as health care professionals. CME can be a way to empower ourselves by staying current on the cutting edge of our specialties, but also brushing up on the medicine that we may be asked to practice in a time of great need.

Dr. Posada is consultation-liaison psychiatry fellow with the Inova Fairfax Hospital/George Washington University program in Falls Church, Va. She also is associate producer of the MDedge Psychcast. Dr. Posada has no disclosures.
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