What is a Fair Amount of CME Money?
While a CME allowance is a popular employment perk for clinicians, it's not universal. Also, it doesn't seem to be keeping up with the rising cost of continuing medical education, especially CME conferences.
It is too bad there's no law that entitles you to CME money. But of course it makes sense that other laws mandate you earn aforementioned CME.
For medical professionals who do have a CME budget, the amount varies drastically by practice type, location, and clinician taxonomy. That's not to say there aren't a few extremely popular CME options it seems everyone likes for their continuing education.
As we’ve discussed before, your annual CME budget could range from a cachectic few hundred bucks up to a healthy $10,000 or more. What gives? Let's look at the data and see what we can learn.
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An Evidence-Based CME Money Assessment
Updated with 2022 data
Merritt Hawkins recently updated their compensation and incentive report with 2021/2022 data. We went through this entire 42-page report to find key CME allowance insights so you don't have to.
The report has noted a downward trend in CME allowance for physicians, which started in the report year 2020/2021. This comes on the heels of increasing CME stipends since at least 2017.
This decline is not too surprising, however, as it was common knowledge among healthcare professionals that hospitals were slashing CME stipends and other benefits amid the pandemic.
PAs and NPs saw a similar decline in CME money over the same time period, but a look at the larger trend shows a relatively stagnant, if not slightly increasing, CME stipend for this group.
Average Physician CME Allowance
This study reports the average annual CME allowance for physicians declined from a high of $4,166 in 2019/20 to $3,691, the lowest since 2016/17.
Days off for CME were not reported in this review.
Physicians' CME allowance is essentially unchanged over the last year, but remains at a 5 year low. The range of physician CME allowance was $1,000 to $35,000. The high end of the range dropped from $50,000 the previous year.
That appears to be $35k to spend on awesome CME adventures. However, it is probably only part of the story. When I worked in large hospital settings, I would routinely spend $10,000 to $15,000 per year on reimbursable CME expenses. However, most of this was to cover the costs speaking at conferences that weren't already covered by the organizers.
The number of employers in this review offering a CME allowance dropped slightly from 98 percent to 92 percent.
Average PA & NP CME Allowance
The average physician associate CME allowance and average nurse practitioner CME allowance were again reported together.
This data suggest most PAs and NPs have annual CME budgets between $750 and $5,200. The range for the previous year was $1,000 to $30,000, which appears to be a bit of an outlier. The high end of the range has been $5,000 for at least five years, save for 2020/21.
The average CME allowance for NPs and PAs in 2021/22 was $2,537, down from $2,956 during the previous CME year. However, the $30,000 outlier probably skewed this data. Overall, the average appears relatively stable over the last five years. I put these data points into a spreadsheet and added a simple trendline.
While I can't say with any certainty that the visual representation is statistically significant, it does appear that physician CME allowances are stagnating, while PA and NP CME budgets are slowly increasing, on average.
No CME Fund? Here's What To Do
For our beleaguered healthcare colleagues without any employer-sponsored CME fund, there are a few ways to ease the pain.
I'm not talking about independent practice owners, your operational structure is totally different from employed clinicians.
Pretend you are a hospital administrator for a moment. Close your eyes and disregard the fact that CME is required for clinicians maintaining licensure, credentialing, and billing privileges.
Forget that revenue is almost entirely dependent on these healthcare professionals. Nobody else in the hospital is capable of generating income for the institution the way “providers” are. Pay no mind.
Now that we've solved the thorny issue of ‘fairness,' here are some options for you.
Find Cost-Effective and 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.
Free CME is typically either industry-sponsored or offered as a bonus from independent medical education companies as a way to give back to their community.
Almost without exception, if I have a choice, I'll go with the independent medical education content.
We've listed a few independent, free CME resources here. There are many more out there, like this free CME podcast series on COVID-19 from Master Clinicians, which specializes in urgent care and other essential areas of medicine.
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. Finally, check out CME providers like MedMastery, which is a very affordable way to earn up to 2 years of CME credits, if you plan it right.
Spending CME Money & Tax Considerations
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. And if you want to complicate your taxes more with additional income, there's a lot of potential there for you.
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When deciding on a CME activity, consider that some companies offer free gift cards or equivalent discounts as incentives. Which is better?