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By Jordan P Roberts, PA-C

How Much CME Money Should You Have?

The allotted amount of CME money individual clinicians receive ranges wildly. Here's an evidence-based search for a fair CME allowance

Last Updated: October 9, 2021
How much CME money different clinicians receive

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. Fair warning, the latest available numbers are from the pre-pandemic years of 2017-2018. The latest updates to CME gift card incentive values happened just now.

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How many annual paid CME days off (separate from PTO) do you have?

An Evidence-Based CME Money Assessment

In 2019, Merritt Hawkins published a 56-page report (2017-2018 latest available data), which we read start to finish so you don’t have to. 

Even considering that this is pre-COVID information, I think the trends are still relevant.  As soon as new data becomes available, we’ll be sure to update you about the post-COVID CME world. Seems like that might be a while.

Average Physician CME Allowance

This study reports the average CME allowance for physicians annually was right around $4,000 ($3,888 to be exact). Physicians are generally allotted five to ten days off for CME, but this was not reported in this particular review.

This is up about only about $200 from the prior year. The range of physician CME allowance was $250 to $50,000. 

You read that right. Fifty grand to spend on awesome CME adventures.

The good news is that a CME allowance was offered by nearly all (98 percent) of employers.

Average PA & NP CME Allowance

The average physician associate 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.

That seems to be reflective of my own professional experience. Well, not exactly, but we’ll get to that later.

The average CME allowance for NPs and PAs in 2019 was $2,280, up about $150 from the previous CME year.

Considering PA and NP CME allowance range, we’re seeing a spread from $650 to $5,000 per year.

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.

Earn 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.

Just be careful, as a lot of free CME is pharma-sponsored, and may have the potential for bias, consciously or not.

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.

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.

Here’s their radiography CME podcast series, orthopaedics, and more. All awarding free CME.

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.

Unconventional CME 2021

Unconventional CME for Post-Pandemic Education

A Hand-Picked Next Recommendation for You!

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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Originally Published: August 5, 2021

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