Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 441–451 | Cite as

Didactic CME and practice change: don’t throw that baby out quite yet

  • Curtis A. Olson
  • Tricia R. ToomanEmail author


Skepticism exists regarding the role of continuing medical education (CME) in improving physician performance. The harshest criticism has been reserved for didactic CME. Reviews of the scientific literature on the effectiveness of CME conclude that formal or didactic modes of education have little or no impact on clinical practice. This has led some to argue that didactic CME is a highly questionable use of organizational and financial resources, and a cause of lost opportunities for physicians to engage in meaningful learning. The authors’ current program of research has forced them to reconsider the received wisdom regarding the relationship between didactic modes of education and learning, and the role frank dissemination can play in bringing about practice change. The authors argued that the practice of assessing and valuing educational methods based only on their capacity to directly influence practice reflects an impoverished understanding of how change in clinical practice actually occurs. Drawing on case studies research, examples were given of the functions didactic CME served in the interest of improved practice. Reasons were then explored as to why the contribution of didactic CME is often missed or dismissed. The goal was not to advocate for a return to the status quo ante where lecture-based education is the dominant modality, but rather to acknowledge both the limits and potential of this longstanding approach to delivering continuing education.


Medical education Continuing medical education Didactic education Practice change Physician performance Assessment healthcare outcomes Evaluation 



The case studies research described in this article was funded in part by an unrestricted educational grant from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals; this publication was supported by grant 1UL1RR025011 from the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program of the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health.

Ethical approval

The case studies were reviewed and determined to be exempt by the Health Sciences Institutional Review Board of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MedicineUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Office of Continuing Professional Development in Medicine and Public HealthUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Anstruther, FifeUK

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