Author: Sue Novak, MD, is a Senior Medical Writer at Pri-Med. This post includes modified excerpts from the courses outlined below.

For many clinicians, keeping pace with cutting-edge medical research and clinical practice guidelines can feel like a full-time job. But staying up to date on advancements in healthcare delivery is crucial to positive patient outcomes. Since medical knowledge is constantly expanding, it’s important for physician assistants to seek out educational activities that offer insight into the latest developments and quality standards. That’s where physician assistant (PA) continuing education courses can help.

Beyond offering valuable learning opportunities, CME/CE courses play an essential role in maintaining physician assistants’ certifications and licenses. The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants requires all practicing PAs to earn 100 CME credits every two years, half of which must be Category 1 CME credits. These requirements are part of the NCCPA’s 10-year certification maintenance process, and can be fulfilled through online or in-person programs designated for the following types of credit:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Prescribed Credit
  • Category 1 credit by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
  • AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ from organizations accredited by ACCME
  • AOA Category 1A Credit

Alongside national CME/CE requirements, physician assistants must also meet the rules and regulations laid out by their state’s licensing boards. While there is some overlap, state-level requirements are separate from those established by the NCCPA and often vary between jurisdictions. The best way to stay compliant with all CME/CE requirements is to visit your state’s licensing board website and ensure the educational activities you select award the specific credits required for recertification and relicensure.

Selecting the Right CME/CE Courses

First, it’s important to verify whether a CME/CE course is accredited by relevant PA organizations. After identifying courses that meet criteria for Category 1 CME credit, you then want to find those that align with your professional interests and specialty. In most cases, these courses are offered by established medical academies, healthcare associations, and independent companies like Pri-Med. Unlike many other health professionals, physician assistants have the unique capability to change specialties throughout their careers, often without the need for additional formal training, per the AAPA. This enables you to focus on developing the medical knowledge and skills you are most interested in.

Pri-Med offers hundreds of online courses that offer Category 1 CME credits and cover a wide range of primary care topics, from urgent care to prescription management to contemporary issues in LGBTQ patient care. Additionally, PAs looking for face-to-face learning opportunities can sign up for one of Pri-Med’s national conferences. Every course details the exact type of credits it will award, such as 1.50 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™, which are accepted by the NCCPA and many state licensing boards as Category 1 CME credits. Below are 5 can’t-miss physician assistant continuing education courses every PA should consider.

Course #1: Caring for Me, Caring for You: Strategies to Pursue Personal Health and Create a Culture of Wellness

Faculty: Catherine F. Pipas, MD, MPH | View Course

According to a 2018 survey from AAPA, 1 in 8 physician assistants reported that he or she was considering quitting a job due to stress. All clinicians—including physician assistants—are often put on a superhuman pedestal. There is a perception that we are immune to the stresses of healthcare, which is not only unrealistic, but also the cause of a variety of challenges that we’re now seeing with clinician rates of burnout much higher than that of the general population.

Dr. Catherine Pipas explains that while we may be experts in medical knowledge and clinical practices, it can be difficult to take care of ourselves in an unsupportive—or in some cases, toxic—environment. So how do we combat burnout? The ability to reframe some work demands, maximize the roles of other team members, and being able to say “no” are a few ways we can start.

In his can’t-miss continuing education course on burnout, Dr. Jay Winner provides useful tips for making patient care documentation more efficient. He advises taking full advantage of templates and keeping in mind that sentences are for novels, not for medical documentation. Physician assistants and other clinical staff can also make HPI notes easier to understand to avoid the redundant task of annotating and dictating patient information after each visit.

Additionally, Dr. Winner explains how to deal with common frustrations—like tedious computer work and patients who are rude or non-adherent to treatment. When treating difficult patients, remember that they are almost always suffering; it’s usually not about the clinician. If we keep that in mind, we’ll likely be less frustrated and more focused on improving patient outcomes. When working with noncompliant patients, it’s important to remember that we are not their bosses. We can only be a caring consultant and explore their challenges by asking such questions as, “Why is it hard for you to adhere to a good health plan?” For computer work, it’s helpful to think of it as technology-oriented patient care and recognize that it actually has some unique advantages. While doing it, we can relax with some music and a warm cup of tea, which is typically out of the question during an office visit.

These are just a few tips clinicians can implement to reduce their day-to-day stress, but there’s a lot more you can learn through physician assistant continuing education courses. By completing a course on stress-management and clinical practices, you can create a culture of wellness that exponentially benefits your ability to care for others—and yourself.

Course #2: LGBTQ Mental Health: From Closets to Communities

Faculty: Petros Levounis, MD, MA | View Course

In 2019, we appreciate and celebrate the diversity and fluidity of sexuality and gender identity. There are many people who identify as bisexual or queer, or who have a more complex sexual orientation—they may be almost straight, but not entirely, or almost gay, but not entirely. Similarly, there are many patients who identify as gender fluid, and may feel more like a man or, at other times, more like a woman. This fluidity does not mean a person is transgender, though we do see and treat a number of transgender patients as well. Regardless of a person’s unique identity, every patient is entitled to high-quality care and unbiased clinical practices.

The world is becoming more complex in terms of sexuality and gender identity. That’s wonderful and we love it, but it can become a little overwhelming for physician assistants—and other clinicians—to keep all these new terms in mind and make sure they are using the correct pronouns. In his can’t-miss course on LGBTQ patient care, Dr. Levounis emphasizes that empathy and curiosity are key to building healthy relationships. If you come from a point of view of curiosity and warmth, everything else will follow—if you happen to make a mistake on a pronoun, so be it. As Dr. Levounis points out, it’s far more important to actively engage with your patients, ask questions, and have a curious attitude about their lives than it is to be “always right” on these complex matters.

One way we can ensure that the LGBTQ population feels welcome and comfortable in primary and urgent care environments is to avoid assuming that all patients are heterosexual. Instead, physician assistants and other clinicians can build trust by using gender-neutral language when interviewing patients and asking about their partners, both romantic and sexual. Additionally, we can change the intake forms in clinics to list male, female, and other, because many people do not identify as just male or female.

This physician assistant continuing education course can provide you with a range of strategies for creating a more welcoming environment for members of the LGBTQ community. If you’re interested in learning how to use culturally informed and sensitive approaches to treatment or enhancing your comprehension of the unique mental health problems faced by the LGBTQ population, this course may be for you.

Course #3: Expert Debate: Marijuana Legalization: For or Against?

Faculty: Stephen B. Greenberg, MD, MACP and Marc Robinson, MD | View Course

The use of medical marijuana is a hot topic that isn’t going away, and physician assistants are now permitted to recommend medical marijuana in many states across the U.S., per MDLinx. That said, it’s important for clinicians to know the specific biochemical properties of cannabis, its mode of action, and how it is metabolized before adopting it into their clinical practices. As marijuana continues to be legalized and becomes more accessible throughout the country, physician assistants will need to fully understand the efficacy and safety concerns associated with cannabis use.

For most clinicians, it’s common for patients to come into the office wanting to know if cannabis, hemp seeds, CBD oil, etc. will treat a myriad of medical problems, from pain to dementia to post-traumatic stress disorder. In these situations, a familiarity with the medical knowledge and clinical studies that either support or debunk the use of marijuana for various medical conditions is key. As the flood of clinical trial results pour in, physician assistants will need to understand and interpret the data to decide whether medical marijuana will benefit their individual patients.

Research on the long-term health and social consequences of cannabis use, the frequency of addiction, and new approaches for treating withdrawal symptoms is still ongoing, and the results will likely have a large impact on the therapeutic and public health implications of medical marijuana.

Keeping up to date with regulatory changes at the local, state, and national levels can help you anticipate how cannabis may impact clinical practices moving forward. This evidence-based course offers physician assistants and other clinicians an opportunity to learn more about the indications, benefits, and risks of medical marijuana in the context of patient care. The course is designed to help you answer your patients’ many questions on the topic.

Course #4: Medical Errors: The Most Common Mistakes and How to Prevent Them

Faculty: Panagiota Caralis, MD, JD, FACP | View Course

Medical error rates remain high throughout the healthcare industry, and while none of us intends or wants to make mistakes, most practicing clinicians do at one time or another. To err is human, but that does not mean that all medical errors are unavoidable. According to a study from the Physician Assistant Experts Network, the top reasons for physician assistant malpractice payments include errors in diagnosis, treatment, and medication, so being aware of key approaches to prevent these errors is imperative.

To start, we have to identify and analyze the root cause—or causes—of errors in our clinical practices, which may include organizational processes, scheduling systems, purchasing protocols, practice guidelines, the need for additional training, and more. Luckily, The Joint Commission has released a number of national patient safety goals to help physician assistants and other clinicians pinpoint common issues, along with strategies for securing positive outcomes. Some notable topics include: the use of sign-off procedures to improve the handoff between medical providers, the timeliness of critical test results, the importance of publishing a list of drugs that sound and look alike, and the process of reconciling what you think a patient is taking—as opposed to what they’re really taking—to understand how other medications may interact with their prescriptions.

To help combat these errors, this physician assistant continuing education course offers additional insight into why many common medical errors occur. The course also explains the concrete steps we can take in daily practice to reduce errors and mitigate any potential legal consequences that may arise from unintended errors. This medical knowledge is invaluable for the safety of our patients and for our own peace of mind.

Physician Assistant Continuing Education from Pri-Med

Pri-Med has been a leader in continuing medical education for more than 20 years. We make it easier for physician assistants and other clinicians to keep up with the newest medical knowledge by developing new ways to access education and practice tools. If you’re looking to enhance your knowledge of the latest quality standards, medical practices, and research on how you can improve patient care, our online and in-person educational activities can provide the instruction you need to excel in the healthcare field. Our wide selection of CME/CE courses has helped PAs across the U.S. meet the certification and licensing requirements established by the NCCPA and state-level boards, improve patient outcomes, and engage with new perspectives in the medical industry.

Looking to fulfill your Category 1 CME credit requirements? Each Pri-Med CME/CE course offers AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™, which will satisfy your requirements. To learn more about our physician assistant continuing education courses, browse our library of online courses or view our upcoming medical conferences.

About the Author: Sue Novak, MD, practiced primary care and emergency medicine for 17 years prior to joining the Pri-Med team. As a Senior Medical Writer at Pri-Med, Sue is versed in much of our education and included excerpts from the courses outlined in this post.


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