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How Continuing Medical Education for Physicians Works


While CME requirements for physicians vary across medical specialties, they are equally important regardless of the specialty or scope of practice in which a physician is engaged.

Acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to practice medicine requires a great deal of time, money, and effort.

You’ll need to make an academic commitment to complete four years of medical school and up to seven years of residency training. The training does not end there.

In fact, many states require medical professionals to undergo continuing medical education in order to maintain their licenses.

What is continuing medical education?

Continuing medical education (CME) refers to ongoing education that helps licensed medical professionals to maintain competence, as well as stay abreast of industry developments and new technologies. In the United States, CME programs for physicians are regulated by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME).

It’s important to note that CME only refers to ongoing education activities that are directly related to a physician’s work. For ACCME to recognize a CME program, it must consist of educational activities that serve to maintain, develop, or increase the knowledge, skills, and professional performance of a physician when delivering services to patients, the public, or the medical profession.

While enrolling in continuing education programs that do not relate to a physician’s professional needs or interests may be worthwhile, ACCME may not recognize them as CME. For instance, taking up a personal financial planning course or an English literature course may be beneficial, but it won’t count as part of CME. This is because such continuing education programs are related to your nonprofessional educational needs or interests.

CME programs are usually developed by a variety of organizations, including hospitals, education institutions, medical education agencies, professional associations, and home study providers. If you haven’t considered pursuing continuing medical education just yet, you do so sooner rather than later.

Why is continuing medical education important?

Professional development is key to success in a career in any field. Here’s where CME fits in.

Meet certification/licensing requirements

CME may also be a requirement for certain healthcare licensures and certifications. Many regulatory bodies require doctors and allied health professionals to complete a certain number of CME credits annually in order to maintain their license. Before signing up with a CME course or program, you should verify that it’s accredited. Only accredited programs are viable in meeting the credentialing and licensing requirements.

Refine skills to improve overall patient care

CME is crucial to the success of physicians and their practices. It allows medical practitioners to learn and discover viable ways to improve the patient care services they deliver. It also helps them to effectively manage their practices so that they can remain competitive in the ever-changing landscape of the medical industry.

Keep up with the latest technology

Like with many other industries, there are new advancements that are made in the healthcare industry. Many of the innovations have an impact on how patients are diagnosed, treated, and cared for. With many medical facilities incorporating newer technology into their procedures, physicians and other allied medical professionals need to continue their medical education so that they can be conversant with the changes that occur.

Maintain membership status with prestigious professional organizations

Every medical professional knows how important it is to earn and maintain membership status with professional healthcare organizations. Many of the prestigious organizations require their members to pursue CME so that they can maintain their membership status. As a member of a professional healthcare organization, therefore, you will need to provide proof of continued medical education in order to maintain your membership status.

Career advancement

While taking CME courses is generally a job requirement, updating your medical knowledge and skills will increase your chances of advancing your career in medicine. Continued medical education equips you with more knowledge and skills that can enable you to handle more tasks and responsibilities. When placed side-by-side with other candidates for a promotion, you will stand out and impress your employer.

So now you’re convinced that continued medical education is important, what’s the next step? Well, you need to earn CME credits. Are you wondering how to go about it? Read on to find out.

How to earn continuing medical education credits

A CME credit is a unit of time that a medical professional spends attending a CME activity. By partaking in an accredited CME activity, you can earn CME credits, depending on the time you spend on the CME activity. For instance, for every hour you spend in a CME activity, you get to earn one CME credit.

There are different conventional and unconventional ways to earn CME credits. They include:

Live medical conferences

Medical conferences fulfill a critical role in the continuing education of physicians and other allied health professionals. There are many functions that these conferences meet, including impacting new skills on attendees and enabling them to interact with peers. Physicians who attend live medical conferences tend to see improvement in healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.


In the world of CME, there is a relatively new and convenient way to earn those coveted credits- webinars. The word “webinar” is short for web-based seminar. Attending a webinar is pretty much like attending a live seminar. The difference is that you gain access to a webinar virtually and not in person. Many CME webinars are free as they are usually sponsored by the organizations putting them on. There are many resources available to physicians for earning CME webinars, including the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) website, among others.

Free online programs

If you don’t want to spend your valuable time or money traveling to live conferences to earn crucial CME credits, you can explore the online CME option. According to a recent online CME survey, 84 percent of physicians said that they would prefer to complete their CME online. Further findings revealed that 50 percent of the respondents like online learning as it allows them to avoid the hassles of travel.

There are many providers offering online CME programs. A simple Google search will give you many options to choose from. These options come in a wide range of formats, including PowerPoint presentations, podcasts, and webcasts, etc. When selecting an online CME program, ensure that it meets Category 1 Credit requirements.

Continuing medical education requirements for Physicians

While CME requirements for physicians vary across medical specialties, they are equally important regardless of the specialty or scope of practice in which a physician is engaged. It’s also important to note that CME requirements not only vary across specialties, but they also vary from one state to another.

The majority of state licensing boards have established specific requirements for CME credit content. Therefore, it is important to check with your state or local medical board so you can know the number of CME credits and hours you should have to meet CME compliance. You can rely on online resources to check your specific CME state requirements.

For physicians who own their private practices, sending their employees to CME events can be valuable for many reasons. By supporting physicians and other healthcare professionals’ continued learning, they can enhance the overall quality of healthcare and efficiency in their facilities. Supporting educational requirements and goals of physicians can not only help to improve patient outcomes, but it can also help with employee retention. In other words, continued medical education at healthcare workplaces provides an opportunity to for medical practices to attract new physicians, retain current physicians, and increase the credibility of the organization.