Nontraditional ways to achieve CME credits

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published May 30, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Continued medical education (CME) credits from the American Medical Association (AMA) come in two iterations: AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ and AMA PRA Category 2 Credit™.

  • Live lectures, enduring materials, manuscripts, and more count toward PRA Category 1 Credits™. To ensure that an activity’s credited, locate the AMA Credit Designation Statement.

  • AMA PRA Category 2 Credit™ is self-designated and self-claimed by the physician.

  • Keep in mind that you may be able to claim CME without realizing it, such as for primary authorship of a paper, teaching at a live conference, or earning an advanced degree.

A wide variety of institutions require continuing medical education (CME) credit. These include state medical boards, specialty boards, the Joint Commission, hospitals, and insurance groups.

When most physicians think of CME, live meetings and online learning modules come to mind.

There are, however, various other, nontraditional ways to earn CME credit through the American Medical Association (AMA).

PRA Category 1 Credit™

Physicians earn AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ when they complete all requirements for an educational activity.

According to the AMA, the activity is supposed to “serve to maintain, develop, or increase the knowledge, skills, and professional performance and relationships that a physician uses to provide services for patients, the public or the profession.”[]

AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ can be earned by:

  • Participating in activities sponsored by US CME providers that are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) or an ACCME-recognized state medical society

  • Directly receiving credit from the AMA by participating in activities recognized by the association

  • Taking part in AMA-recognized international activities

The following CME activity types are certified for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™.

  • Live activities. Participation can be live or remote. Examples include national, regional, or local conferences, workshops, seminars, or journal clubs. Faculty credit is considered a live activity.

  • Enduring materials. These include print, audiovisual, and internet materials.

  • Journal-based CME. Peer-reviewed journals offer CME that’s certified for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ before publication.

  • Test-item writing. This must include group peer review and be for high-stakes examinations or peer-reviewed self-assessment activities. It requires research, drafting, and defending questions administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners, a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), or a national medical specialty society.

  • Manuscript review (for journals). This involves critical review of an assigned journal manuscript and needs to be for an original contribution in a publication indexed by MEDLINE. The article must have multiple reviewers and be judged acceptable by an editor.

  • Performance improvement CME. A long-term process in which a group of physicians learn about performance measures, analyze their practice using performance measures, and institute improvement to the practice.

  • Internet point-of-care learning. This CME activity involves self-directed, online learning on topics related to their clinical practice. The physician must reflect on the question, the sources used to answer it, and its clinical applications.

The AMA also highlights the following more “unconventional” ways to earn AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™.

  • Published articles. You need to be the primary author, as listed on MEDLINE.

  • Published abstracts for a poster. You need to be the first author for this, too.

  • Medically related advanced degree. Have an MPH, MHA, PhD, or so forth? Consider this option to claim credit for a healthcare-related degree.

  • ABMS member-board certification or maintenance of certification. This option allows you to get more mileage out of your specialty board requirements.

  • Teaching at a live activity. This can be claimed at a live activity certified for AMA credit if not otherwise claimed via the accredited CME provider.

  • Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)–accredited education. Credit can be claimed for doing a residency or fellowship.[]

Before taking part in any activity, make sure it’s certified for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ by finding the following AMA Credit Designation Statement listed on the CME materials: “The [name of accredited CME provider] designates this [learning format] for a maximum of [number of credits] AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.”

PRA Category 2 Credit™

This class of credit is self-designated and self-claimed by the physician, and refers to credit not otherwise designated as AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™. It must comply with AMA’s definition of CME, conform to relevant AMA ethical opinions, be non-promotional, and be a meaningful learning experience.

Here are some examples of activities that qualify for AMA PRA Category 2 Credit™:[]

  • Unstructured online searching/learning (but not internet point-of-care learning)

  • Self-assessment activities

  • Medical writing

  • Reading medical literature

  • Preceptorship

  • Consultation with peers and medical experts

  • Peer review and quality assurance

Cool course offerings

If you’re interested in intriguing course offerings for CME credit, check out UCSF Office of Continuing Medical Education.[]

UCSF, which is ACCME accredited, offers more than 200 courses per year, as well as grand rounds certified for CME credit. These courses cover all specialties and cater to more than 13,000 participants.

The Healthforce Center at UCSF boasts a long history of leadership and resilience training for physicians and other healthcare workers. “Our rigorous and experiential programs transform participants at all levels of an organization into informed and skilled leaders and create a pipeline of diverse health leaders,” the center stated on its website.

What this means for you

Some forms of AMA credit are obvious. But keep in mind that unconventional activities can garner credit, too, such as being a primary author on a peer-reviewed journal article, attaining an advanced degree, or teaching at a conference. You may not even realize that you qualified, so keep your eyes peeled for unconventional ways to land CME credit.

Related: Prevent malpractice suits through continuing education

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