So, how’s your continuing education going? Are you breathlessly excited about attending that next lecture? Probably not. I’ll go as far as to bet that you’re picking your next big meeting event based on location rather than course agenda. Or, nearby restaurants?

Continuing education has so much scrutiny in the past few years. Governmental agencies investigate potential conflicts of interest in funding by pharmaceutical and equipment companies. (New Jersey has at least temporarily limited the honoraria that a speaker can receive from pharmaceutical companies, even if events are multiple and legitimate.)  Educational boards are concerned with the quality of events, and their applicability to daily practice. Multiple rules and policies have been added, much to the dismay of course providers.

Have we gone too far?

My Dad never hesitated to use the old saw, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Yes, we can legislate, mandate, and track endless hours of lecture. We can, and we do. I always wonder about the take-home utility of the cattle-call lecture. I’ve given more than a few of these myself! Did that four-hour jail sentence really provide you something additive to your practices or your patients?

Wouldn’t it be great to have optometric CE in smaller, more intimate formats? 

Before class, how about a required degree of preparation and participation for the OD student? Unfortunately, our CE requirements are high enough that most purveyors of CE see that small seminar and focus-group formats simply don’t meet the needs of the large number of ODs. 

Our system effectively excludes the very formats that would have the most impact on optometric practice. 

We are left with the large “shed” format that allows the student to drift in and out. Even our most professional and dedicated of doctors seem lulled into submission.

One answer is the “problem-based learning” approach.

I was lucky enough to present contact lens and solution information on behalf of Alcon a few years ago. Cases and scenarios are presented to a group of 10-15 doctors, whose handouts cover the data that is presented. Then, a series of questions are presented, and the doctors are required to answer as we sequentially circled the u-shaped conference setup. (Footnote 1)

The results were nothing short of stunning. Engagement was high, as was enthusiasm.  There is a strong sense of learning when it’s done jointly and cooperatively. Is it possible to serve optometry’s massive CE needs with this format? My CE company known as “Optometry on West 44th” is going to try, though there are economic as well as logistical hurdles. (Speakers expect to be compensated, and meeting halls aren’t free—go figure!)  How about an extra bit of credit for preparation time?

Another possibility would be to seek out one-on-one tutorials in busy offices of our specialists and thought leaders. Some states allow this as CE, and it should be expanded to those who don’t. Imagine spending a day for credit with a top glaucoma specialist or scleral lens practitioner?

Perhaps a more moderate approach is for all of us to try to get more out of the CE formats that are common. I was inspired by an article by Benjamin Casella, OD, who is the new editor of Optometry Times. Dr. Casella’s “Dialogue with Lecturers at CE” encouraged us to interact with speakers, even in large lecture halls. (Footnote 2) This can give us at least SOME of the flavor of the give-and-take that is so vital to the learning process. Otherwise, it can appear as so much preaching, and inevitably the mind wanders.

“If I could stick my hand in my heart and spill it all over the stage….”  The Rolling Stones

Finally, give the lecturers a break. Lecturing colleague John Schachet, O.D. once said that each slide you’ve shown has had at least an hour of preparation time. Remember how hard that speaker has worked, for relatively low compensation, to bring what you need to the table. Attend, pay attention, and ask questions, even if the speaker isn’t a budding Melton and Thomas.

My bottom line is that we need to take charge of our CE and make it worthwhile. 

The challenge is to local society presidents and meeting planners to develop novel formats that can help develop patient care strategies and elaborate on the science behind them.   How about an hour’s breakout session, with smaller groups reviewing cases based on the night’s lecturer? Lifelong learning is one of the defining factors of a “profession,” and we need to do better.