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Designing CE programs at a discount.

When it comes to continuing education, many rural hospital laboratories in our state face a dilemma: They lack funds for expensive registration and travel fees. That's why the North Alabama State Society for Medical Technology sponsors its own continuing education days. Twice a year, we provide low-cost CE opportunities for area technologists, on topics ranging from TDM to DRGs.

Our group, a division of the state ASMT organization, represents some 25 technologists working at six hospitals within a 50-mile area of northeastern Alabama. The student laboratory and classrooms of 550-bed Huntsville Hospital serve as the base for our CE presentations, but members from all the labs cooperate in putting together the day-long sessions. We take about two months to plan, prepare, present a program. Here are the major steps we follow:

* Select date, schedule, and site. We pick a day that is usually slow in the area's laboratories. Wednesdays seem to be ideal; workload is heaviest early in the week, and staffing decreases on thursdays and Fridays. For a good turnout, we avoid dates just before or after holidays or during the summer vacation months.

Scheduling allows participants to plan around their workday commitments. The day-long program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a noon lunch break. Many technologists who cannot stay away from the lab for the entire day can attend either in the morning or afternoon. Most technologists are paid for their time off to attend the sessions.

Two workshops are presented simultaneously in the early session from 8:30 a.m. until noon. Three more workshops follow the lunch break, running from 1 to 4:30 p.m., 2 to 3 p.m., and 3:15 to 4:30 p., giving attendees a choice of interests to pursue.

Fortunately we have free use of the hospital's student laboratory and classrooms for our presentations. When additional space is needed, we can arrange to use four other classrooms with audiovisual equipment belonging to the hospital's continuing education department. Local colleges, churches, or community centers are other options for meeting space.

* Choose topics. Our subjects range from general interest to management and clinical specialities. One management workshop, "The History and Impact of DRGs and TEFRA," explored the effect of prospective payment on laboratories and the roles of laboratory professionals; it was presented by a chief technologist, a director of laboratory services, an MT program director, and a certified public accountant. Another administrative program dealt with preparing for inspections. Many members enjoy workshops on labwide topics like procedure manuals and CAP workload recording.

Remaining sessions address various laboratory specialties. In the fall, we present worksthops in hematology, chemistry, and urinalysis. Bacteriology, blood banking, and serology are covered during the spring session. We have even offered a PACE-approved seminar, a wet workshop and general technical review of urinalysis procedures and microscopic examination of sediment. The speaker was a diagnostic manufacturer's sales representative and former medical technologist. Other workshops have covered therapeutic drug monitoring and hyperalimentation, blood bank case studies, and a presentation of case studies comparing MICs to Kirby-Bauer methods.

* Recruit speakers. We have many sources for speakers who are willing to present a workshop for no fee. An informal network provides us with suggestions. At meetings or in casual conversation, technologists mention subjects and speakers of interest; a chemistry technologist, for example, suggested that two pharmacists speak on therapeutic drug monitoring and hyperalimentation. Several technologists have volunteered to give presentations in their respective areas. One hematology supervisor prepared a group of prestudy slides for participants in a case study workshop.

We have also called on pathologists from area hospitals. One, who served in Vietnam, is an expert on malaria--a relevant topic since several cases of the disease are reported each year among foreign students at nearby universities.

Diagnostic manufacturers are an excellent source for speakers. Several have sent us sales representatives for programs on urinalysis and coagulation. These sales reps--some of them former medical technologists--spoke on condition that the topics be covered in a noncommercial way. It may be helpful to poll participants on the types of instruments in their laboratory. If the majority of hospitals have a certain type of instrument, it may be worthwhile to ask a service representative in for a troubleshooting workship.

finally, keep in mind that speakers need not have a medical background. As statistics and financial accounting grow in importance to health professionals, talks by accountants and computer programers can be especially useful.

Our speakers, with the exception of manufacturers' representatives, have all been recruited locally since we don't pay speakers' fees, honorariums, or lodging costs. The diagnostic companies have provided for their own representatives.

* Arrange refreshments. Participants at our continuing education days are served a morning coffee break, lunch, and a midafternoon snack, although this is certainly not a necessity. The hospital's excellent cafeteria provides for our gatherings at a prearranged price. We've found that breaks run smoother if the food is brought to the classroom and arranged buffet-style.

If your hospital cannot provide food service or if your program is being held at another site, contact local restaurants about catering. Or, to keep costs down, seek donations for breaks and lunch. Many laboratory supply companies sponsor coffee breaks at state and national meetings. Ask one of your sales representatives to sponsor a break at your meeting, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the answer.

* Generate publicity. Publicity is vital to promote your event. We design our own brochures and have them printed by the hospital print shop for a small fee. Included in the brochure are the sponsoring organization's name and the program location, date, time, fee, and schedule. The schedule includes the program title, the speaker's name and credentials, and a short summary about each presentation.

A registration form on the back of the brochure notes that a $1 late fee is charged if registration is not returned a week before the program. This helps us estimate attendance and assure adequate seating and handouts for the CE sessions.

Brochures are sent to all hospitals in our area and to technologists who have previously attended our CE sessions. Attendees usually number between 35 to 55, with about 80 per cent of our own membership participating. The lab computer prints out address labels to speed mailing, and we update the mailing list after each CE day.

On the day of the event, signs are placed at hospital entrances and throughout the building to direct participants to the meeting place. Arriving registrants are greeted at the lab by a technologist and given a folder labeled with their name and the workshops they signed up for. The packet includes a fee receipt for personal income tax deduction, any needed workshop handouts, a certificate of participation (see Figure I), and a program evaluation form.

Attendees also receive a "ditty bag" containing pens, pads, cups, rulers, and other items donated by sales representatives. The packets and ditty bags are prepared as the registration forms are returned.

* Assign proctors. We assign someone familiar with the location and all aspects of the program to each speaker. Several days before the event, the proctor offers the speaker assistance in preparing and photocopying handouts and arranging audiovisual setups. At the session, the proctor greets the participants and introduces the speaker.

* Collect fees. We charge a small fee to cover the cost of food and printed materials. ASMT members pay $5 for a full-day program and $3 for a half day. Nonmembers are charged $7 for a full day, $5 for a half day. Meals and breaks are included in both full- and half-day registrations.

This nominal fee, of course, limits us to speakers who will donate their time. Compared with fees at national and state meetings, however, ours offer participants substantial savings. Technologists must spend almost $100 to attend a one-day national or state workshop, not including transportation and lodging. As to quality, we believe that our workshops are almost comparable and our speakers just as knowledgeable, if not as well-known. The proof will come with our ability to offer more PACE-approved workshops in the future. At present, the hospitals are recording continuing education hours for participants in their personnel files.

* Obtain evaluations. Be sure to include an evaluation form. We ask participants about the speaker, program content, food, and suggestions for future workshops. We've been gratified by ratings of good to excellent from most participants. It's a nice touch to include copies of favorable evaluations with thank-you notes to your speakers.

There's no doubt that continuing education days require commitment and a lot of work from a sponsoring group. We believe they're worth the effort. In our small organization, everyone pitches in. Our president usually serves as general chairman of the event; the secretary-treasurer is responsible for mailing and all money received. Other duties--preparing packets, printing, greeting speakers--are delegated to member technologists. Meetings are held periodically to assure that all is going as scheduled.

Our CE days provide professional growth on a shoestring, along with a chance to touch base with colleagues in the region. If budget cuts are forcing your laboratory to take a hard look at continuing education expenses, the idea may be right for you.
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Title Annotation:continuing education for medical technicians
Author:Adams, Miriam
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:May 1, 1985
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