Continuing education is more than just a requirement for state relicensure or for maintaining your professional association registration or certification. It can be a road map to help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Developing a personal education plan can help you map your objectives, manage your schedule and finances and help you achieve those goals that will take you to the next level.
Organizing your plan requires some research, a little budgeting and some self-reflection. Writing and saving your information in a central file, folder or even a large envelope will help you keep all your needed information in one easy-to-find location. Handwritten or electronic, what matters most is you organize the information, so you can find it and use it easily.
Before You Begin: Locate your license expiration date and/or renewal date for your professional association recertification.
Getting Started: Cover the basics first. Review what the requirements are for your state or local license. If you hold more than one license, review and list each license requirement. If you are a member of a professional association, such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) or National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) identify the additional requirements to obtain or maintain your membership level.
Items to watch For: Can you take all of your required courses online or through self-study? Many states require a percentage of hours taken in live or face-to-face courses. Are there specific content areas, such as CPR, ethics or state regulations, that you must complete for each renewal cycle? Can you earn additional hours by teaching a course? This information is generally available on the Web site for your state in the licensing section. It is generally called “Continuing Education Requirements” or “License Renewal Information.” Be sure to make a note of courses that are not eligible for continuing education or license renewal. While you may wish to take a course in this area, be aware you cannot count it toward your requirements.
Review: Do a review of the courses you have already taken in the current cycle. What are you missing? Note the dates, hours and content areas of the courses you have received a certificate of completion for. Store them in your file for easy access when it is time to report them.
Ready to move ahead?
Clarify Your Objectives: Do you want to meet the minimum requirements only? Is there a special area of interest, technique or practice strategy you want to develop or advance your skills in? Is your objective to grow your practice through marketing or business development? Take some time to reflect on what you want to accomplish at the end of your plan. Write down your objectives; it is ok to revise them from time to time. This does not have to be a large document. Something along the lines of “Explore techniques for working with older adult clients” or “Develop spa therapy skills I can add to my practice” are good examples.
Identify Your Preferred Learning Style: Are you self-disciplined enough to complete a self-study or online course? If you have not tried a self-study course before, you might try a short course offering just a few hours to see if it fits your style. If you prefer hands-on interaction, you may want to attend live courses that have a hands-on component. Feel the need to interact with colleagues and vendors? A state or national association meeting might be for you, and you can obtain CE contact hours at the same time. A live webinar offers you the chance to hear the instructor, see the materials and ask questions without having to leave your home or office. Taking the time to identify how you like to learn will help you select courses that will be most helpful and satisfying to you.
Develop a Budget: Your budget should include both financial resources and time. Can you afford a three-day course in a location that will require travel expenses? Is it easier for you to take a local, one-day course closer to home? Consider that time away from your practice also includes lost income in addition to course costs. If you need to bring or purchase supplies, equipment or textbooks in order to participate, factor in these costs also.
Research Your Options: Now that you know what content areas you need or want to include in your plan you can begin to identify your options. Research strategies include web searching, talking to colleagues, reviewing marketing materials that you receive in the mail or by e-mail. Many association web sites list upcoming courses in your area as well as state and national meetings and courses.
Narrow it Down: As you identify courses, instructors or locations that match your objectives verify that the continuing education provider and the course will be recognized by your state or association. If you take a course out of state, or from an out of state provider you need to clarify if they are nationally certified and if the class will be accepted in your state. Recognition by your state board generally requires that both the content and provider be acceptable.
Added Benefits? Can you identify any value-added benefits? Are there materials that are included in the course tuition that can help extend the course experience? Traveling to a live course in another city may give you an opportunity to meet with family, friends or colleagues during the trip; this could be an added benefit of that course. Perhaps there is a spa, school or other business you have wanted to visit in that city. When comparing courses, the added benefits may help you make a decision.
Timing and Preparation: Before your course, you might want to contact the provider to obtain suggestions for recommended reading. If you need to bring materials and equipment with you, obtain a list and organize your materials ahead of time. Plan your travel to be sure you arrive in time for registration and informal networking. If you are taking an online course or self-study module, schedule your session at a time where you can review the materials with minimum distractions.
Record Keeping: Save a copy of your certificate of completion in your CE folder. Update the list of courses you have completed. Begin to think about your next course or educational opportunity.
Carry Over: When you complete a course, finish a journal article for CE credit or return from a conference or meeting, give yourself at least one “homework” assignment to help extend what you learned to your business plan or practice. Taking what you learned and translating it into action will help you gain more from the course. Write down at least one new idea or practice and list the steps to implement it right away. Speed is important here. If you wait too long to try out a new idea or technique, chances are you will not do it.
Continuing education can open up new avenues of referrals, income and satisfaction for your practice. Investing the time in developing a personal education plan will pay off in many ways!
Patti Biro is an educator with more than 25 years of experience in the design, development and planning of continuing professional education for health and wellness professionals. She is a NCBTMB-recognized provider of continuing education. Biro is the founder of Elder-ssage™: The Art and Science of Massage for the Aging Adult, which emphasizes the cross disciplinary use of massage for the older adult. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Web at www.pattibiro.com.