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Continuing Education For the New Millennium

Continuing Education For the New Millennium

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Cover Story

Continuing Education For the New Millennium


Technology makes CEUs cheaper and easier.

By Jill Diffendal

You're an OT in Texas. It's early July, and you are reading the latest newsletter from the Texas Occupational Therapy Association. You notice a reminder to renew licensure, and realize that your 24-month renewal is due in September. You call the Texas Board of Occupational Therapy Examiners, and they tell you it will be no problem-just send in your documentation by Aug. 15th and make sure you have 30 contact hours of continuing education. But you only have 20 hours!

You frantically look through your latest issue of ADVANCE but can find no classes anywhere in the state of Texas by the deadline. You are ready to close the magazine in defeat when something catches your eye-an Internet/home study course? Earn up to 15 contact hours? Get your CEU certificate in 24 hours? Pay dirt!


Why Not On-Site?

Last-minute CEUs are only one of many situations that lead therapists to enroll in home study courses. Actually, the biggest reason that educational companies are motivated to offer more convenient CEUs is that therapists just can't afford to get all their credits any other way.

"We have a lot of factors that are impinging on health related professions," said Michael Magrun, MS, OTR/L, co-founder and vice president of Clinician's View, a video publisher specializing in clinical video seminars for continuing education. "Agencies are restricting the amount of money they are willing to provide for continuing education, so a lot has to be done with the therapist's own resources. They are also reluctant to allow therapists to leave for too many work days, because lost work days are extremely important now that rehab, through the HMO system, has been structured the way that it has."

Today's technology has enabled education providers to offer better customer service. "Sometimes it takes companies a week to return your phone call," said Richard Willhite, COTA, founder and CEO of Therapy Information Services, a continuing education company that offers both online and mail order courses. "Most companies are part time; they are just therapists that do [continuing education] on the side. We are full time, and you can reach us 24 hours a day."

The bottom line is that there are a lot of options for therapists to get their continuing education credits, and those companies that offer convenience and lower costs are going to get noticed. The American Occupational Therapy Association is part of this growing trend, and in fact has been offering distance-learning courses since the late 1980s. Today the national association offers Web-based workshops, online courses, self-paced clinical courses by mail, continuing education articles in its periodicals, and workshops on disk.

"Our ongoing perspective is that it is cost effective for both the practitioner and for AOTA to offer distance learning options," said Maria Elena Louch, continuing education program manager at AOTA. "When you are talking about disseminating information, it is easier to reach a larger audience through a distance-learning medium than through something scheduled for one time on-site and you have a limited number of people."


The Best Choice?

Mail order courses? Read-and-respond articles? Video seminars? On-line courses? How do you choose which is best for you? It may depend on what your priorities are.

"Our goal is to provide clinical information to therapists at a reasonably low cost so they can take advantage of the experience and problem-solving ability of master therapists in the field," said Magrun. "We thought videotape was the best way to do this because, therapeutically, although it is interesting to read about certain approaches, techniques and treatment strategies, it is very important to be able to see how these things are applied to the actual client population."

Magrun and his brother Gary founded the Albuquerque-based Clinician's View in 1993 as a video production company that would promote clinical excellence in the allied health professions. They began by producing two separate satellite broadcasts of clinical seminars, but quickly discovered that it was unwieldy and expensive to do a satellite broadcast.

"There was a lot of detail, expense and cumbersome organization required," said Magrun. "And it didn't really address the need to make long-distance education something that was available on demand. People still had to go to local downlink sites. There was still travel involved, and there might be some lost workdays involved. So we decided to begin to host our own seminars."

Magrun contacted some of the clinical colleagues with whom he had been working as a therapist. They organized, sponsored and taped continuing education seminars and edited the tapes. Attached to the programs was additional written material used by the seminar hosts. Then they developed verification exams for each to ensure that therapists spent the hours necessary to earn their CEUs. The company has since been certified by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET), the organization which sets all national and international standards for continuing education and offers the highest certification a provider can receive.

"The idea behind the video seminar concept was to allow therapists to view the program at their own convenience," Magrun added. "If they want to watch certain segments again to more fully understand the material, they have that opportunity. They can also watch in groups, which we encourage because some of the seminars have labs and it is more helpful if people can go through the labs with a partner."

Clinician's View courses have become more and more popular. The company now has 18 seminars available, with three in the production process, one to be released later this year and three or four planned for next year. Magrun is also considering online courses that incorporate a visual component such as slide presentations or streaming video.

If you are looking for online courses, try, the virtual home of Willhite's Therapy Information Services, based in Nacogdoches, Texas. The company's mission is to promote the advancement of education among health care professionals. It offers continuing education via the Internet for greater accessibility and convenience.

Willhite started TIS in 1995 and began to offer continuing education over the Internet in 1998.

"We are unique because we allow the therapist to go on the net, read the materials, and take the course, and it is 100 percent interactive," said Willhite, who spent 9 years as a COTA until he stopped practicing in 1999 to work full time on TIS. "There are other companies where you can read about their courses, sign up for the course or even order the course online. Here you can sit down and take your test, and the next morning you can have your CEU certificate. We pride ourselves on our turnaround time."

TIS offers four different courses for allied health professionals, in pediatrics, orthopedics, neuroscience, and geriatrics (currently the geriatrics course is only available by mail order, but it will be available online soon), with a course on ethics in the works. The company's Web site allows you to preview each course to be sure it is appropriate for your practice. Once you take the test, you can pay by credit card via the Website or call the company for other payment options.

Each course is designed and written by leading therapists in occupational therapy, speech language pathology and physical therapy. TIS frequently reviews the courses to ensure accurate and current information. Offering the courses over the Internet allows Willhite to provide quality education at a low cost of $89 per course.

Customer service is top priority for Willhite. In addition to promising your CEU certificate in 24 hours, TIS also will secure pre-approval of contact hours in some states, saving the therapist both time and money. "We'll fax your certificate to you," he said. "We've even had some therapists ask us to fax it straight to the state board. We'll do whatever it takes for the customer to be happy."

If you'd like several options from the same provider, try continuing education offerings from AOTA. "People are becoming more limited in the live courses they are able to attend," said Louch. "And so we recognize the need to have available a diverse number of learning opportunities for members, and so our list of what is available at any given time will continue to grow."

Self-paced clinical courses have been around for more than 10 years. They are the organization's oldest distance-learning offering and the only option which allows the therapist to apply for non-degree graduate credit. Order the course, read the material, take the test and send it in.

AOTA's Internet courses, which began in 1994, have evolved into two different formats. The Web-based workshops are offered during a specific time period. You access and study the information on your computer and then have the opportunity to engage in an e-mail forum with faculty and with other participating therapists. Online courses work similarly to the Web-based workshops, but can be accessed any time for a period of two weeks and do not provide for faculty or peer interaction.

Workshops on disk can be ordered and completed on your computer. According to Louch, the organization is phasing out many of these workshops to focus on making courses available online, however some will continue to be offered.

The most recent addition to AOTA's offerings are the continuing education articles found in the first issue of OT Practice each month. Read the article, complete the registration and answer card included in the magazine and send it to AOTA.

The organization regularly reviews and updates their distance learning offerings based on changes in the field, shifts in the strategic goals of the organization, and perceived need based on member feedback. AOTA is always looking at new topics for course offerings. Next on the agenda for new education projects are two in-service modules on genetics and pediatrics. These are organized in-services that practitioners can purchase and present to other audiences. They will not involve continuing education credit, but are available for therapists who need to present in-service sessions at their facility.

The question has long arisen in professional circles, however, as to whether collecting continuing education units for knowledge gained actually translates into greater clinical competence.

So last year ADVANCE for Occupational Therapy Practitioners began its own distance-learning program, Advance Yourself, with a pilot series on "Basic Psychology for Occupational Therapists" written by private-practice columnist Dr. Jane Sorensen. The series, which was published in print and on the magazine's Web page, included an experiential component. Instead of simply reading the material and taking a test, applicants were asked to take what they'd learned into practice and write case reports on patients with whom they had used their newfound knowledge. Sorensen reviewed the reports and accepted those in which the knowledge had been applied correctly. The individuals were recommended for 5 contact hours toward CEU credits. They were sent certificates of attendance, along with a course syllabus that could be presented to their licensure boards to review course content, and a curriculum vita of the author.

In checking with people who had successfully completed the course, ADVANCE editor E.J. Brown found them enthusiastic.

"We were more concerned with increasing actual competency than in just providing knowledge," she said. "This was essentially a review course in psych theories by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and one OT who had been in practice a long time told me she had forgotten how useful their work was and how well it could be applied. She surprised herself when she began using it again. Others said they, too, enjoyed the course and felt they were better practitioners for having taken it."

The course is available online at, and this newsmagazine will soon announce more such offerings, now exclusively Web-based, so readers will be able to choose among several options in various practice areas.


A Place for Everything

"There is a place for home study, and many people have a legitimate reason for it," said Willhite. "We never want therapists to get all their CEUs through home study. We want this to supplement their education. It sounds like a conflict of interest, but we believe in hands-on courses. There is a place for home study, but it should not be the end-all be-all of CEUs."

And according to Louch, cost might be an issue but therapists still feel that there is no substitute for on-site learning. "From what we hear, people still like to have that one on one interaction, not just with faculty but with their colleagues in a workshops setting. But we hear from them that that is getting harder to do. Distance learning will not replace those other types of learning, but it will be something that people turn to more frequently." *


* For more information, visit Clinician's View at or call (505) 880-0058; contact Therapy Information Services at or call 800-651-2231; check out Advance Yourself at OT ADVANCE Online at www., and see AOTA at or 800-SAY-AOTA.

Jill Diffendal is ADVANCE assistant editor.


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