Continuing medical education: "You need to utilize various sources"

Interview with Prof. Reinhard Griebenow, Medical Association of North Rhine (ÄkNo)

What characterizes great continuing education courses and how can they be kept current? asked Professor Reinhard Griebenow, among other things, Chairman of the ÄkNo "Continuing Education Committee of the North Rhine Academy of Continuing Education".


Photo: Prof. Reinhard Griebenow

Prof. Reinhard Griebenow; © Ärztekammer Nordrhein

Prof. Griebenow, as a physician, how do you manage to always keep up-to-date on the latest medical developments? 

 Reinhard Griebenow: To keep up-to-date as a physician, you need to utilize various sources. That definitely includes digital media, industry and trade magazines and professional organizations but you also need to attend different events, of course. Digital media will clearly become even more important in the future because the workload in hospitals and medical practices continues to grow. The opportunities to travel for several days to attend a convention are becoming more and more limited.

 You are the continuing education coordinator of the Medical Association of North Rhine as well as the North Rhine Academy of Continuing Medical Education. How do you make sure you are always offering the latest continuing education programs?

 Griebenow: There are four key elements: first, you review the individual medical specialties to assess what’s new. We subsequently offer courses that are based on different curricula and where participants are able to obtain an accredited title or additional qualifications. Of course, we also offer ongoing continuing education courses, whose contents change only marginally but are continuously checked for currentness. And lastly, the Medical Association offers courses that are otherwise only rarely being offered, such as autopsy performance, for instance. Overall, we are able to respond very quickly. Given two congresses each year, we usually manage to factor in all of the current developments. In addition, we are also able to include programs on short notice, enabling us to incorporate important developments.

Graphic: Conference

Training must always be up to date and adapt to innovations; ©

Are the course instructors certified or were they specifically trained for these continuing education programs?

 Griebenow: The advantage of the North Rhine-Westphalian region is that medical expertise is abundantly available and literally everywhere. There are five medical schools just in the North Rhine core area alone. It is second to none. That’s why it is comparatively easy to find suitable course instructors. Although a Master in Medical Education is available, currently only a minority holds this type of degree. Needless to say, educational expertise is also built during training, meaning during postdoctoral lecture qualification (habilitation) for example. However, we primarily emphasize professional expertise though there are certainly subjects that can’t be covered by physicians in clinical medicine. That’s why we also approach colleagues that are practicing physicians, who have never before dealt in didactic training. But in North Rhine-Westphalia, it is mandatory for each certification program to be evaluated. We have analyzed this and can say that we are at a very high level.

 What is the hallmark of a great continuing education program?

 Griebenow: You already need to factor into your planning how much time it takes to adequately represent the contents. What’s more, you also need to be able to properly convey the problem and the subject matter. It is also essential to represent the entire surrounding field to be able to communicate solutions to a specific problem. If you want to be able to highlight specific types of diagnoses or therapies, you should also be familiar with all of the alternatives. The objective of the course is always a well-balanced representation.

 Do you believe German physicians are sufficiently educated?

 Griebenow: That’s a difficult question to answer since there is only very little comparable data available from other countries. Let’s take the U.S. for example. It is a much larger country than Germany but by comparison, it offers less than half of the continuing education programs we do. What’s more, less than 20 percent of continuing education venues in Germany are sponsored. The only explanation for this is that we have a very high level of local continuing education opportunities. There are many continuing education services in hospitals for example, with their own staff, but these services also need to be available to outside physicians. In contrast, the situation looks very differently in France. There are nearly no systematic approaches to continuing education if you don’t count conventions by professional associations. When you take this into consideration, the situation here in Germany is not bad at all.

Photo: Simone Ernst; © B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Simone Ernst and translated by Elena O'Meara.