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Last Updated: May 5, 2021
By Jordan P. Roberts, PA-C

4 Effective Techniques to Stretch Your 2021 CME Fund Further Than Ever

The CME fund. It’s not uncommon for employed clinicians to have a limited annual CME fund. It’s more than reasonable for you to want to get the most value possible from this pool of money. Here's how your colleagues do just that - and how you can, too.

4 Effective Techniques to Stretch CME Money

This post contains affiliate links, which help support Modern MedEd. We may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you decide to make a purchase through one of these links.

CME Fund Regulations

Many employed clinicians with a CME allowance face the same problems year after year. What is the best way to spend CME money? And; how can I spend it before the end of the year so I don’t lose my CME fund?

If you are employed, you might have an annual fund specifically for continuing medical education. Because your CME fund usually won’t carry over to next year, you’d be wise to make the most of your CME money every year.

The mad dash to spend your remaining CME money before year’s end catalyzes the many CME special offers (including CME with gift cards) appearing that time of year.

Your CME allowance poses two problems. First is finding the best way to spend your CME money. The other is ensuring you don’t go irreparably over budget.  

The only thing even more disheartening than leaving CME money on the table is going thousands over budget and getting stuck with the rest of the bill. We never want a fellow clinician to experience either injustice. 

Creative Ideas for Spending CME Money

Fortunately, there are many tried-and-true methods healthcare providers use to maximize their CME allowance. More than we can cover here. There are even ways that make spending thousands more than your CME fund a financial win for you. The four we’ll discuss today are:

  1. CME with gift card offers
  2. Online CME discounts and promotions
  3. Speaking at a CME conference (virtual or when they return)
  4. Creating your own CME

Because of the pandemic shutting down just about every medical conference, we are adding in a new technique to replace point #3 above for the time being. 

If you haven’t heard of some of these, fear not. All the strategies we describe here are established, above-board, and widely acceptable ways your colleagues make the most of their CME allowance year after year. 

Furthermore, each of these techniques will leave you with a stronger clinical knowledge base and easy-to-log category 1 CME hours. 

It can be a challenge to combine all the major techniques in a single year. However, the years I implement two or three are always some of the most fun and important in my career.

Quick Question About your CME Fund...

We’d really appreciate if you’d answer this anonymous, one-question survey about your CME fund.

I know this may not be reflective of all situations, so answer the best you can and stay tuned for more. 

CME Stipend Poll
Answer based on current (or most recent) place of employment

How Much Should Your CME Allowance Be?

While a CME allowance is a popular employment perk for clinicians, it’s not universal, unfortunately. After all, there’s no law that entitles you to a CME fund (though maybe there should be).

For those who do have a CME budget, the amount varies by practice type, location, and clinician taxonomy.

As we’ve discussed before, your annual CME budget probably ranges from a cachectic few hundred bucks up to a healthy $10,000 or more. But let’s look at the data. Specifically, this 2019 report from Merritt Hawkins (2017-2018 year is the latest available data).

This report suggests the average CME allowance for physicians in 2019 is right around $4,000 ($3,888 to be exact). This is up about $200 from the prior year. The range of physician CME allowance paid was from $250 to $50,000. You read that right.  

Average physician assistant CME allowance and average nurse practitioner CME allowance were reported together. 

This data suggest most PAs and NPs have annual CME budgets between $2,000 and $3,000. The average CME allowance for NPs and PAs in 2019 is $2,280, up about $150 from the previous CME year. Regarding PA and NP CME allowance, the range was $650 to $5,000.

No CME Fund? Here's What To Do

For healthcare professionals without a CME fund, there are a few ways to ease the pain. Disregarding the fact that you need CME to keep your license and therefore to generate revenue, here are some options.

Free CME

One way is to stick to free CME entirely, which in today’s digital world is totally possible. There is plenty of high-quality, free online CME out there if you are willing to look.

In fact, We’ve listed some free CME resources here. Also, in case you haven’t had enough of the pandemic, enjoy 8.5 free category 1 COVID-19 CME credits from MDCalc.

Attending grand rounds and other presentations at your institution, if that’s available to you, is another great way to get free CME while getting to know your colleagues better.

Your CME Fund and Taxes

In the past, you could count on Uncle Sam understanding your struggle. In most cases, your expenses for CME and other professional obligations qualified as tax-deductible. With the 2018 changes in the tax law, this is probably no longer true, at least for now.

A tax deduction is usually not as good of a deal as having someone else straight up give you CME money, but it’s better than nothing.

It turns out taxes are super complicated, so do your own research and consult a qualified tax professional before trying to blame me when your accountant yells at you.

With ALL that said, here are four effective techniques to stretch your CME fund further than ever. 

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1. Take Advantage of CME with Gift Card Bonus Offers

A select few CME providers will effectively subsidize your CME fund by offering truly generous gift cards with your CME purchase.

We’re talking about bundles that include as many as 100 CME hours plus an Amazon gift card worth up to $2,750. Often, CME with gift cards can also come in other forms like Visa, American Express, Home Depot, or Apple. The amount depends on the CME provider offering the gift card, but these go up to $2,750.

So where can you find one of these unicorns? One of the best we’ve come across is from world-class CME and board-prep extraordinaire, Board Vitals.

CME with Gift Card Offer #1 - BoardVitals CME Pro Plus

With CME for physicians, as well as PAs and NPs, clinicians of all kind can find something that fits their needs. Board Vitals’ flagship specialty and general continuing medical education product, CME Pro Plus Self-Assessment with MOC activity, comes with a variety of Amazon gift card or American Express gift cards – standard.

Early in 2019, Board Vitals unveiled the “choose-your-own-price-tool,” which allows you to…well, choose your own price (imagine that) based on your CME budget. You can also customize your CME subscription length (up to 24 months) and CME gift card value (up to $2,500). This can get you up to 100 category 1 CME credits. 

Use this tool to see how the price you choose affects your CME gift card value here. Hint: Choosing the $4,750 option, while it may sound expensive, is actually a steal.

This has to be one of the best online CME with gift card offers ever. I haven’t found anything better, and we owe half our existence to finding them. 

CME with gift card board vitals
Click for details and gift card calculator based on your CME fund

How Does CME Pro Plus Work?

Great question. You answer board-quality, consistently updated, relevant-to-your-specialty questions at your own pace, claiming category 1 CME along the way.

This is completely online CME that you can do on your smartphone, tablet, or computer anytime you want. The items and explanations are updated in real time via cloud technology so you know you are always getting the latest information. 

What’s the catch? Like any quality product, it’s the price tag. Also like any quality product, you won’t regret buying it. But we can help soften (or eliminate) that financial blow.

Purchase this $4,750 beast of a board review or CME product and get a free $2,500 Amazon or Visa gift card in return.

Your receipt will show only the CME that you purchased, and your gift card arrives in the mail a few weeks later most of the time, but is expedited during the holidays.

In case you are wondering, the answer is yes, they have CME in your specialty. And they are always adding more to their library.

Board Vitals Most Popular CME with Gift Card Bundles

This is just a small sampling of what Board Vitals has available to you.

Because they have been working with us to help you get the best CME around, we consistently score our readers the best prices on their CME.

We encourage you to take a better discount if you find it, but there aren’t many (if any) like those that intermittently appear at the top of the page. 

If you aren’t sure how this fits into your CME budget, check out our end of year CME survival guide to find out.

On the other hand, if you want to learn more about their CME Pro Plus, visit BoardVitals for yourself. You can view options for your specialty and remaining CME budget before purchasing.

CME with Gift Card Offer #2 - Oakstone Practical Reviews & CMEinfo Insider

There are others who offer CME with gift cards to help you maximize your CME allowance. 

Oakstone Medical Publishing offers clinicians the choice of CME with an Amazon gift card worth up to $2,000 when you purchase a subscription to CMEinfo Insider (up to $2,000 gift card) or Practical Reviews (up to $1,000 gift card).

Don’t go in expecting a free lunch. They aren’t pharmaceutical reps, after all (hey-oh). Here’s the price breakdown:

Practical Reviews

  • 12 Month Subscription: $500 Amazon Gift Card – $998
  • 24 Month Subscription: $1,000 Amazon Gift Card – $1,998

CMEinfo Insider

  • 12 Month Subscription: $1,000 Amazon Gift Card – $1,999
  • 24 Month Subscription: $1,500 Amazon Gift Card – $2,999
  • 36 Month Subscription: $2,000 Amazon Gift Card – $3,849

Like the Board Vitals offer above, this is also an extremely well-curated collection of some of the best online CME around. With CMEinfo, you’ll get fresh content each month, unlimited CME credit earning potential, exclusive video lectures, and more. See for yourself.

They clearly did not scrimp on quality and have reflected this effort in the price. Don’t take that to mean you won’t come out ahead. 

CME Fund Example

Let’s imagine you have $1,000 remaining in your CME fund. If you buy a one-year subscription to CMEinfo, you are essentially getting an otherwise admittedly pricey CME program for free.

With $2,000 remaining in your CME allowance, your employer picks up the entire cost of your one-year CMEinfo or Practical Reviews purchase (that’s the point) and you are rewarded on top of that with $1,000 to spend on Amazon.

Either way, you’ll have access to high-quality, relevant category 1 CME for your specialty for one or two entire years. Because the product was developed as an online CME program, you can work through it at your own pace, wherever you want.

CME with Gift Card Offer #3 - Audio Digest

Audio Digest is a hugely popular option for CME among healthcare professionals. Additionally, it has the option to get a free Amazon gift card with your CME purchase.

With content in 14 specialties, there’s something for most healthcare professionals. Subscribe to AudioDigest here for an extra $100 gift card.

Compare Audio Digest CME v BoardVitals to see which is right for you.

2. Take Advantage of Exclusive Discounts & Seasonal CME Sales

With the rise of both the volume and quality of online medical education, competition has become fierce. This is great for clinicians, because it means they have more choice in where to spend their CME allowance. Not only are there more good online CME offers available, but the frequency of fun and innovate in-person CME events is also increasing. 

But more to the point, many of the best online CME providers offer exclusive discounts for certain partner audiences. This is akin to being rewarded for referring a friend. Except we’re your friend and you get rewarded. 

Referral Awards for CME

For example (and for a little self-promotion), we at Modern MedEd have various affiliate partnerships that benefit our readers (that’s you!). For example, we have several CME reviews along with helpful insights, because we did the CME ourselves.

A notable example is your getting $25 off a year long subscription to Hippo Education’s CME podcast series, Reviews And Perspectives, or RAP, just by clicking here (for Primary Care RAP). If urgent care (Hippo Urgent Care RAP) or pediatrics (Hippo Pediatrics RAP) is more your style, you are covered there. And yes, you still qualify for your $25 savings or Amazon gift card.

Want another audio CME option with even more choices? Here’s an extra $100 gift card from Audio Digest when you make your first purchase.

Full disclosure, we may earn a commission on any sales we generate. So it’s a win-win. And even if it’s not the right time for you to purchase, we’ll always be grateful that you’ve come here to read our work. Seriously, thank you.

Get a Free Trial Before Spending Your CME Fund

Most of these companies also offer a free trial or money-back guarantee for those who aren’t totally sure about making that big purchase.

It’s totally understandable, and just plain smart, if you ask us, especially for new customers. This way you can try out the product and won’t kick yourself (or us) if it’s not up to your expectations. Worst case scenario: you get to log free category 1 CME hours.

Specifically, Board Vitals offers a free trial consisting of a limited selection of items from each of their CME question banks to ensure that it meets your needs before you commit. Here’s their collection of free board-review questions. You can also purchase CME with these question banks.

Oakstone offers a similar money-back “pass guarantee” on purchases of CMEinfo Insider (which can be used as a board review resource).

However, free trials mean you won’t have access to the advanced analytics and CME tracking features, which – trust me – you’ll want. And as boring as it may be, read the fine print yourself because this stuff changes or has nuance outside the scope of this article.

You can also sign up to get the super secret, extra exclusive offers that are only available to our email subscribers. Ok, self-promotion time is over today. Thanks for indulging me.

3. Use CME Money for iPad & Medical App Deals

In addition to everything else here; speaking at a conference, ordering online CME with a gift card option, and writing your own CME with an accredited provider, you can also use your CME money for certain point-of-care medical apps

Using any of the CME with gift card offers can be combined to get you a free tablet, too.

Just spend the Amazon or Visa gift card, which can be up to $2,500, on the piece of technology that works best for you.

Not only is getting an iPad with CME a pretty sweet perk, but it’s also practical.

There are dozens of medical apps can be used on a tablet or smartphone at the point-of-care, which makes the gift card more utilitarian than luxurious.

3.1. Speak at a CME Conference (virtual or when live CME returns)

There are two types of people in this world: those who love speaking in front of a crowd, and those who’d rather be dead. The same is true of clinicians.

However, I encourage you to reject any personal dogma you hold telling you that public speaking is not for you

We’ve shown you how speaking can be a lucrative side gig in the past. Luckily enough, it can also be a nice way to (maybe) get your conference fees covered.

Most reputable conferences will at least waive the cost of registration for their speakers. Some might also pitch in for certain expenses like airfare, food, hotel, and an honorarium.

It is still a good idea to attend local and national conferences even if you aren’t speaking. The networking itself can earn you exponential returns for yourself and your career. 

If you want to improve your public speaking skills before doing the real thing, get Dale Carnegie’s timeless book on public speaking for less than the cost of a propranolol prescription.

4. Write Your Own CME

This one is a good option if you are the type who enjoys researchingwriting and teaching others about your areas of clinical expertise.

Clinicians are major sources of medical information for these CME providers. Most of them are almost always looking for good healthcare professionals who can also write, speak, or deliver a good performance on camera. Seriously, even we are. Why not you?

Check out some of the awesome clinical articles other readers have contributed. You can contribute, too! Visit this page to learn more.

Drawbacks to Writing Your Own CME

One drawback is that you may earn category 2 CME credit for this work, even if you are creating what will eventually be category 1 CME. Although physicians may qualify for self assessment CME credit for test item writing. Sorry PAs and NPs. 

I know, it seems a little illogical that creating awesome category 1 CME only nets you category 2. At least it did for me, but that’s life. Check with your certifying body or licensing board for more details before claiming credit because they may tell you something else (or audit you!). 

However, you may be able to earn some category 2 CME now and claim the sweet category 1 CME for free at a later date.

That’s because once your work becomes accredited, it’s usually a part of a larger program. You may be granted access for free as an additional perk of being a (paid, usually) contributor. For instance, I was on Hippo Education’s Primary Care RAP CME podcast in the past, and enjoyed this exact set-up. In fact, I still enjoy listening to my fellow contributors’ work, as well as earning category 1 CME credit from it.

Here are a few CME companies that are pretty much always looking for qualified contributors.

Using Your CME Fund for Technology

Physicians, PAs, and NPs are increasingly using iPads and other technology to keep up with the demands of the job.

Not to mention technology is becoming more of a part of healthcare (in a good way) with the rise of point-of-care medical apps. That means devices like iPads are critical to at least become familiar with.

If you want an iPad instead of the gift card, you can find places that allow you to choose a free iPad as a thank-you bonus for purchasing their CME.

Although, why not just get the gift card with your CME and use that to get your iPad? Another win-win. We’re all about that here.

Stay with me here. You can get the latest iPad for under $1,000 on Amazon. Let’s say you chose Board Vitals CME gift card option and selected a $2,500 Amazon gift card.

Yes, this one. Being the clever clinician you are, you use your free gift card to purchase the iPad.

You now have the latest iPad, a year’s worth of CME, and money left over on your Amazon gift card to do with as you please.

Plus, you’ll be able to do your CME on your cool new iPad, really increasing the value (and pragmatism) of your purchase.

Make the Most of Your CME Fund

You now have a few tools and techniques that can stretch that measly CME budget a bit further. Even if you have no CME allowance, you can now feel like you do!

You can travel to new places for those great CME medical conferences, use discounts to increase your CME fund’s value, or get paid to learn while creating CME for your colleagues. 

For a comprehensive listing of the offers in this article and more, check out of list of all the CME with gift card offers you could possibly want.

We occasionally have other discounts you may find useful. Our most popular one gets you 15 percent off any BoardVitals product when you use our promo code at checkout.

Currently, you can use MODERN10 at checkout for 10 percent off CME Pro Plus and other question banks.

Check here for Oakstone specialty CME promos.

Originally published July 22, 2018

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