The Continuum of Medical Education

February 1, 1999

Judith Zwolak

If a proposition before the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners is approved, Rosalind Lewy's office may get a lot busier. The state's medical-licensing board is currently evaluating the need for physicians in Louisiana to earn continuing medical education requirements to hold state licenses. Louisiana is one of 18 states with no continuing-education requirement.

Lewy is the director of the Tulane Medical Center's Center for Continuing Education, a seven-person office recently reaccredited for the next four years by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. Lewy says her office has provided continuing-education programs for two decades to health-care professionals from Tulane and beyond.

"Medical education is a continuum," Lewy says. "There are four years of education as an undergraduate medical student and then years of study as an intern and resident. Our office provides the third portion of the continuum, when the physician is in a private or academic practice."

The continuing-education office organizes programs ranging from the weekly "grand round" sessions, where physicians present individual patient cases, to large-scale seminars in international locations such as aboard the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship. The office also provides programs and credits for biomedical scientists, nurses, public-health practitioners, laboratory and hospital technicians and other health-care professionals.

The office is one of 121 accredited academic continuing-medical-education offices nationwide. Although Louisiana doesn't yet require continuing-education credits for state licensure, managed-care groups, hospitals and professional and academic societies all require physicians to obtain certain credit hours each year. For example, New Orleans' Charity Hospital requires physicians who practice there to complete 22 credit hours per year.

Lewy holds a master's degree in education administration and taught at the high-school and college level for 15 years. Assistant director Melinda Epperson also has a master's degree in education administration and taught French and English at the high-school level for 20 years. The office includes Judy Lua and Pamala Schmidt, both senior program coordinators, Shirley Cospolich, accountant, Beth Haspel, administrative assistant, and Terry Stockwell, project assistant.

In the 1998-99 fiscal year, the office organized 84 programs with a total of 6,000 attendees, each of whom earned one Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit for each hour spent at a program. Supporting the office is an advisory committee of faculty members in the schools of medicine and public health led by Paul Rodenhauser, professor of psychiatry and neurology.

"Throughout medical school, we try to instill in medical students that it's a way of life to continue to learn," he says. "CME symbolizes that." The advisory committee's duties include reviewing feedback on past programs and offering creative ideas for new continuing-education activities, Rodenhauser says. Measuring the effectiveness of these programs has also become a hot button in the medical community. "There are a lot of questions about whether this is lasting learning, whether there are behavior changes resulting from continuing medical education," Rodenhauser says.

Lewy says assessing the kinds of programs medical professionals need is central to her office's mission. They glean this information from evaluations of previous programs, focus-group meetings and surveys. The office also works closely with faculty course directors to design the programs.

"Education comes in a variety of styles, so we customize each program in the best learning format," Lewy says. "It could be a didactic lecture, a small-group setting or hands-on clinical session."

Past programs have included a "Cardiac College" for people who wanted to learn more about maintaining a healthy heart, and seminars on women's health under the endowed Jane Wilson Smith Lectureship. March 16 marks the office's first program of its "Men's Health Breakfast" series. The session is open to the public and will be held at the Hotel Intercontinental.

Other developments include delivering programs over the Internet and creating individualized learning experiences, such as a one-on-one mentoring program with two physicians, Lewy says. For more information about the Center for Continuing Education, call 588-5466. The center is located in Suite 1611 in the Tidewater Building.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000