Talking CCMEP™ With Judy Ribble

“Why don’t you have a CCMEP?”

That is a question I have been asked on a number of occasions over the past several years and one I have never fully explored on this blog. When Judy Ribble – Executive Director of the National Commission for Certification of CME Professionals, Inc – asked me that same question (among others) a few weeks ago, it led to a fascinating e-mail exchange on the ROI of the CCMEP for the CME community and the road ahead for the NC-CME.

Below is a reprint of the e-mail exchange between Judy and me. The actual exchange started with Judy e-mailing me, I e-mailed back a lengthy response, and Judy commented on individual points in my response It looked a bit messy with lots of capitalized comments in the middle of paragraphs, etc, so I took the liberty of reformatting and restructuring the flow of the exchange to make more sense to the reader. Keep that in mind while reading. I should also add that my posting of this e-mail exchange is being done with Judy’s permission, blessing, and review.  I look forward to your comments!


We start off with a bit of background information from Judy, which then leads into her questions for me.

JR: In the first 3 years of operation, NC-CME certified over 300 CCMEPs, with an 84% pass rate. The Classes of 2008 have now had the opportunity to extend their 3-year certification for an additional 2 years – and a whopping 94% of eligible  candidates did so.  I see this as solid evidence that the CCMEP credential is maintaining its validity even in the midst of the economic downturn that has decimated the ranks of CME/IME.

At the initial 2-day meeting of the folks who went on to become the first NC-CME Board of Directors, the group was asked to estimate the total universe of CME professionals. The number we agreed upon was 10,000.  Last April at an Advisory Board meeting, the same question was asked and responses averaged roughly the same number.

My first question for you, Derek, is…..

WHEREAS a certification program for CME professionals now exists; and            WHEREAS the cost of becoming a Certified CME Professional ($450) is less than the Registration Fee for most CPD conferences; and
WHEREAS the Board has determined that Recertification will not require passing an exam again; and
WHEREAS the universe of eligible participants is believed to be at least 9,699 –

…. how can NC-CME reach those 9,699 persons toiling in the fields of CME/CHE/IME who could seize this opportunity and “advance their careers while advancing the profession”?  

And I would be remiss if I didn’t also ask why you personally have not become a CCMEP?

DW: It’s interesting that you ask me about the CCMEP. I have had many conversations about it with my CME colleagues and admit that my opinions on it continue to evolve. Since you asked so graciously, I’m happy to share them with you. I’ll warn you that they are my honest opinions and might not be quite what you’re hoping to hear.

JR: I’m hoping to hear honest feedback that can help us improve the CCMEP program.

DW: You are correct in your observation that I do not have a CCMEP. There are a variety of reasons why, but when it comes right down to it, the main reason is that I do not feel the need to take a test in order to validate myself in the profession for which I have worked for the past 12 years. I have never been one to be overly impressed by the amount of letters someone has after their name.

JR: I hear this a lot.  Frankly, I’m in awe of the 4 MDs currently on the NC-CME board who sat for and passed the exam [also 3 PHDs , an EDD and a PharmD who were founding directors].

DW: I’m much more interested in their level of experience and how they are to work with. I’m confident in my own abilities as a CME professional and, truth be told, have a bit of a stubborn streak. That being said, I have indicated to all my previous employers that I would be more than willing to go through the process of the CCMEP certification if they felt it would be beneficial to the organization. None of them thought it was worth the time or money. In my opinion, that’s the battle NC-CME faces: showing the ROI to the CME community.

JR: The “testimonials” I like best are those that recount benefits from the learning process leading up to the exam (see “what our colleagues are saying”).  Perhaps if any of your former employers had achieved it, they could have given you better counsel.

DW: What is unclear to me is, what is NC-CME’s goal with the CCMEP and the CME community? Is it for all 10,000 members of the CME community to have a CCMEP?

JR: Wouldn’t that be grand!  – but truth be told it’s not a viable goal.

DW: If it is (having the entire CME community certified), then I think it was a mistake not to grandfather in those in the community who met certain parameters like years of experience, participation in Alliance, etc. You have a difficult task in convincing that portion of the population that the time and money spent to get a CCMEP will be worth it.

JR: The initial group that became the Board toiled long and hard on this one, finally coming to consensus against grandfathering.  And we’ve found that the early adopters were primarily the go-getters who had risen to leadership status:  check out the boards of ACME/ACHEP, SACME, NAMEC, GAME.  When someone in a supervisory role achieves the CCMEP it often follows that their staff come on board.  At last count, 17 organizations have sponsored 3 or more CCMEPs.

DW: You mention that the cost of a CCMEP is less than the cost of a CPD conference. That may be true, but most who are attending a conference have their expenses covered by their employer. I don’t know what percentage of employers pay for the CCMEP, but I know at least one of mine who wouldn’t and have talked to several colleagues in similar situations. We would have had to pay for it out-of-pocket.

JR: Hmmm.  This is not my experience – but thanks – I will add a question to our next survey and find out what percentage are paid by employers.

DW: So the issue remains: what value does the CCMEP hold for an experienced CME professional who has gone through multiple reaccreditations, spoken at many Alliance presentations, is a site surveyor, been published in JCEHCP, and will have to pay $450 for the certification? One individual I spoke with told me that the CCMEP was geared more to those who were early in their CME careers, like around the 4-5 year mark. This makes some sense to me and I can definitely see more value in that target audience. But all the promotion I see for the CCMEP seems to be geared toward ALL CME professionals (I forget the exact language: “I have a CCMEP and you should, too”, or something like that).

JR: “I’m a certified CME professional and you could be too.”   Note: no “should be” hype. But your remark is on target:  ours is a certification geared for the broad spectrum of people employed in CME across the field of providers, marketers, grantors, even legislators.  What we have in common is a need to know what best-practice CME looks like.  Like family physicians who need to know how to deliver a baby … even though they might never encounter that situation.

DW: Honestly, I think if you want to get more in the community interested in getting a CCMEP, it should be couched as a top tier certification for CME professionals, not as a common denominator. Frankly, I think the high pass rates of the exam hurt you more than help you. If practically everyone who takes it passes it, where’s the value? It’s great for advertising an exam prep course, but not so great for the certification itself.

JR: The pass rates did drop after the first wave of early adopters, who appear to match your “top tier” classification:  2008 – 88%; 2009 – 81%; 2010 – 84%; 2011 – 76%

DW: You want people to be proud to have a CCMEP: is that going to happen if 99% of the community has one and they all passed it on their first shot? (editors note: I knew 99% wasn’t the correct percentage; was using hyperbole to make a point)

JR:  Look at the pass rates – that’s never going to happen.  We work closely with psychometricians to determine viable test items and valid cut scores.

DW: Personally, I would be far more interested in getting a CCMEP if I saw that pass rates were low, only the top individuals in the field were getting it, and you had to have at least 10 years experience to even be considered for it. Then it becomes a challenge. 

JR:  Derek,  it sounds like you’re aiming to equate the CCMEP with certification by medical specialty boards.  And that’s another conversation for another day, one could warm up to.  Actually, moving the program to the next level could entail advanced certifications – but they must build upon the foundation of a basic, broad program.

DW: In the end, I think you are going to have a hard time convincing people that a CCMEP will “advance their career” unless you are able to show them solid evidence that it does/will put them at an advantage (i.e. promotions based on achieving CCMEP, etc) or if pharma starts to ask for it as criteria for funding. It’s nice to think that “advancing the profession” is motivation enough to get someone to do something, but my experience has shown that people are mainly motivated by what benefits them. I look at my advocacy for the CME community to embrace social media as a similar scenario. I can tell them as much as I want how great participating in the #CMEchat twitter chat is for the profession, but it doesn’t do any good until I show them how it benefits them individually.

JR: Stay tuned:  we’re working on a survey to find out why an amazing 94% of eligible CCMEPs certified in 2008 have elected to maintain their certification. 

You might want to interview some folks who gave us permission to quote their POV: check it out – What Our Colleagues Are Saying…  Let’s continue the dialogue – and let’s listen carefully to those who have found value in being certified.


3 responses to “Talking CCMEP™ With Judy Ribble

  1. This was very timely for me, Derek, since I’m being encouraged by my employer to go for this. Some of your points I definitely agree with (cost being the main one; I’m lucky enough that if I pass the exam, my costs will be reimbursed).

    I think some of the hype about the CCMEP came about because it’s the first of its kind for our field. There’s some implied (to some people) cache that being on the ground floor of a “new era” in CME professionalism (especially considering how much self- and outside legislation has come into our profession in the last decade or so) makes you cutting edge, regardless of your involvement in the community.

    One of the things about qualifying for the exam itself is that you do have to have a certain level of involvement in the field–attending ACME meetings, continuing your own education via webinars or local involvement, and years of experience. It could be more stringent–say, attending a minimum of 5 ACME meetings–but that has the potential to leave out a big portion of the field who might otherwise “deserve” to have the credentials.

    Just MHO. I appreciate the post; lots of food for thought.

  2. April Salisbury, MBA, CCMEP :o)

    Well put, Lynn. I have been in the CME field for 16 years and I think it’s been personally rewarding for me. I work in a small, healthcare research and health information technology non-profit. Many of my coworkers here have advanced degrees and specialty certifications, so while those in the CME community might not be completely wow’d by the accomplishment, I am very proud to have the credentials to show my coworkers and potential joint sponsors that I take offering CME credit seriously and have passed a competency exam. As a non-profit, my employer’s travel and education budget is always tight, but I was able to make the case that the certification was valuable, both as a way to help me hone my knowledge by preparing for the exam, and as a way for them to show that we are well qualified to work on projects that require educational interventions to help change provider behavior. I think my certification contributes something to the overall organization’s cachet as a research and education partner.

    • Thanks for your comment, April! I’m always interested in hearing the perspectives of others in the CME community about the CCMEP. Thanks for sharing yours!

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