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A do-it-yourself network for rural CE.

Those of us who work for small and medium-size hospitals and physicians' offices in remote areas often find it nearly impossible to attend continuing education sessions in distant cities. For one thing, there may be no one to take our place back in the lab. And our employers' budget may not include funds for the travel expenses involved.

Faced with these obstacles, several laboratorians in southern Illinois--including a pathologist, a lab supervisor, a technologist, and the co-authors of this article--formed an education group in 1979. Our mission was clear: to make continuing education possible for all levels of laboratory personnel and to minimize off-the-job time losses. In the process, we created a camarderie among area technologists that was previously nonexistent.

The impetus for the group arose almost by accident when one laboratory supervisor changed jobs. Moving from one hospital to another just down the road, she realized that both institutions had similar problems but no means of communication. Continuing education opportunities were few and far between, and state and national societies were reluctant to venture into the area to present programs.

The supervisor visited several neighboring hospitals and suggested to other lab supervisors and administrators that they put together an education group. She began working with a pathologist serving five area hospitals, an enthusiastic medical technologist, and some other lab professionals. Soon the group sent a mass mailing to all local laboratory personnel, inviting them to attend an organizational meeting. Forty people showed up and offered their support.

The organization was named the Southern Illinois Medical Technology Education Group (SIMTEG). In its first year SIMTEG elected officers, established bylaws and a statement of purpose (see Figure I), garnered 57 members, held four four-hour workshops, and arranged for-credit continuing education units at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

This last achievement was one of our most worthwhile. The backbone of an educational program is its ability to establish CEUs, or continuing education units. Before the first SIMTEG workshop was under way, we contacted the department of continuing education at SIU-C. The university has a CE program for nursing and agreed to monitor and record our workshops.

Initially, the university issued certificates for each workshop attended. Now members receive end-of-year transcripts. Those who desire a copy of their current transcript before the end of the year can obtain one from the admissions and records department. Upon request, the SIU-C continuing education coordinator will forward transcripts or credits to any laboratory certifying agency.

Members may also apply to the National Certification Agency for Medical Laboratory Personnel, the American Society for Medical Technology, and the American Medical Technologists for continuing education credit for SIMTEG activities, but most workshop participants have found it more expedient to use SIU-C's contuing education department for CEUs.

The workshops are the heart of SIMTEG's efforts. Officers and program committee members plan and coordinate the four sessions each year. A workshop usually encompasses two two-hour seminars and an hour-long dinner break. Most meetings are scheduled from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. to minimize time off from work.

We schedule our programs to avoid conflict with other organizations. The first program of the year is held in late February or early March, whichever is more convenient. The second program is always held in May to coincide with the Southern Illinois Medical Products Show at the SIU-C campus. At this year's fair, SIMTEG will cosponsor three workshops totaling 14 hours, including an 8-hour wet workshop (see Figure II). The year's third program is held in late August or early September and the final one in December.

Local hospitals serve as hosts for SIMTEG workshops, except for the annual spring meeting held on the SIU-C campus. To date, 10 hospitals have provided seminar facilities, all without charge. When several meeting rooms are needed, the programs are held in rented space at nearby convention centers. We vary locations so that some participants don't always have to travel farther. Driving time to the most distant workshop site is never more than an hour, and many participants car pool. Attendance is usually good, with some allowances for the weather; as a rule, about half SIMTEG's current membership of 75 participate.

We tap a variety of resources when planning programs, including laboratory product manufacturers, distributors, and sales representatives; the American Red Cross; local pathologists; and our members. This allows SIMTEG to present reasonably priced programs that are diverse in content and presentation. One past workshop on blood bank problems was presented by a blood banking specialist from the American Red Cross. At this seminar, technologists could participate in hands-on antibody identification.

A coagulation workshop was given by an instrument manufacturer developing a new product line in response to DIC problems. At a subsequent program, technologists compared this product line with that of a leading competitor. These manufacturers' programs keep us informed of the latest advances in the field, and as yet no representative has tried to use a workshop as the platform for a sales pitch.

At one seminar a microbiology technologist, one of our members, teamed up with a pathologist to cover clinical aspects and available tests for sexually transmitted diseases. As a follow-up, a laboratorian from the Illinois department of public health spoke about the detection and incidence of STDs in our state. Everyone, specialist and generalist alike, seems eager for updates on blood banking, and the spring product fair features an eight-hour SIMTEG wet workshop on this subject. Management topics are also on everyone's list, and we responded this March with a seminar on zero-based budgeting using basic laboratory statistics.

The SIMTEG annual membership fee--$14 in 1985--covers registration and meals at quarterly workshops, newsletter costs, and partial payment for university recording of CEUs. Non-SIMTEG members pay a $5 fee for workshop admittance. If nonmembers attending workshops wish to receive CEUs, they are charged $8; members pay $4. Speakers are paid for their travel and lodging expenses.

Members from smaller hospitals without adequate meeting facilities often cosponsor a program with members from larger hospitals and help with dinner arrangements, setup, and cleanup. If the host hospital's cafeteria closes before our dinner break, we either have the cafeteria prepare coldcut plates in advance or ask sponsors to supply a buffet. Sponsors are usually representatives of products relating to that workshop. They had a chance to display or discuss their products during the dinner break.

The SIMTEG newsletter, published quarterly, contains technical tips, a president's corner, reports of recent and upcoming programs, minutes of officers' and committee meetings, an activity calendar, announcements of regional, state, and national professional meetings, and a membership application.

Sponsors are enlisted to help defray the newsletter's cost. We recruit local businessmen as well as diagnostic manufacturers and distributors. Sponsors are encouraged to describe new products, summarize and explain test procedures, and provide lists of their services. Individuals or companies that contribute $100 to support SIMTEG for the calendar year are dubbed Gold Sponsors.

Our tips for technologists range from short policy or procedure suggestions to longer articles reporting the results of SIMTEG-conducted surveys. One survey, for example, canvassed area laboratories about their blood banking practices. Another revealed how technologists felt about a new Campylobacter bag on the market.

Currently, all laboratories in southern Illinois have at least a SIMTEG member or two. The membership application in each newsletter encourages members to pay annual dues and invites newcomers. We ask new and old members alike to sign up for one of the committees--program, newsletter, telephone, membership--that keep the group going.

SIMTEG programs provide an opportunity for all levels of laboratory personnel to participate in CE, as opposed to the usual scenario in which one person-usually a supervisor--goes off to a seminar in Chicago or St. Louis or Springfield. The cost to the hospital is minimal, and even institutions in the midst of budget retrenchment find that they can afford to support our programs. One hospital, for example, allows $100 per workshop to cover the expenses of all who want to attend. Another lab allows its staff to take one day with pay to attend one of the two days at the medical products fair.

The group's members gain more than continuing education from SIMTEG's activities. We have a chance to meet and share experiences with those in other laboratories similar to our own. The camaraderie between lab personnel has extended to the hospitals, generating a trust between the large and small institutions.

We feel we've filled a gap in our short history, presenting continuing education workshops beyond the scope of individual hospitals and yet more accessible than state or national programs. In the future, we hope for continued growth. At the top of our wish list: a local medical technology training program, with SIMTEG-sponsored scholarships.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:medical labs organize continuing education program in Illinois
Author:Ellinger, Patricia; Rose, Allison
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:May 1, 1985
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