“We develop our activities according to the needs of the healthcare professionals in our community”
Dr. Thurayya Arayssi is Professor of Clinical Medicine and Vice Dean for Academic and Curricular Affairs at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q). She has been working in the area of international medical education for more than two decades and has held multiple leadership positions including Program Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program, Designated Institutional Official, Assistant Dean for the Clinical Curriculum, Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education, and Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education and Continuing Professional Development (CPD). She is the founding Associate Dean for the Division of CPD at WCM-Q.
Dr. Arayssi spoke with “Hospitals” magazine about the success of the WCM-Q CME/CPD program and its importance to healthcare professionals and patients in Qatar, the MENA region and beyond.
Can you brief us about the division of Continuing Professional Development at WCM-Q?
The Division of Continuing Professional Development at WCM-Q provides high-quality professional development opportunities for physicians and other healthcare professionals to increase competence, enhance performance in practice and lead to improved healthcare for patients. The activities of the Division of Continuing Professional Development at WCM-Q are accredited locally by the Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Healthcare Professions – Accreditation Section and internationally by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) – recognized as the leading accreditation body in the US. WCM-Q’s CME/CPD program was initially accredited by the ACCME in 2016, becoming one of the first medical education colleges in the world outside the US to receive such accreditation, which confers the rights and responsibility to designate AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™ (American Medical Association Physician’s Recognition Award).
Then, in 2019, following an exhaustive assessment of its CME/CPD program, WCM-Q was granted Accreditation with Commendation by the ACCME, which is the highest level of accreditation for the provision of continuing medical education the organization can confer.
How do you determine which learning activities are going to be useful to the healthcare community here in Qatar and the wider region?
The way we develop our activities is based on the needs of the healthcare professionals in our community, so we start by conducting extremely thorough needs assessments on a regular basis, both in Qatar and in the region as well. Once we have analyzed the feedback and identified their needs, we then develop our activities in a very targeted and rigorous way.
I believe this is what makes our program of Continuing Professional Development activities so successful and popular with healthcare professionals all over the MENA region and beyond.
People will only participate in activities that are meaningful for them either for their professional development in an area of interest to them, or in an area directly related to their practice where they need to learn about the new treatments or the latest literature. So, this is how we build our program.
You offer a wide variety of different types of activities. What are the main themes or sections of your CPD program?
Based on our regular needs assessments with our stakeholders, we essentially divide our activities into three categories: activities that are related to clinical practice, activities related to skill enhancement for educators in the health professions sector, and finally activities designed to enhance the research skills of practicing healthcare professionals.
This final area is an important one that I want to highlight and explain a little about – it’s not that we are expecting people to become researchers, but rather our activities are gauged towards increasing the skills of the healthcare practitioners in understanding research and applying it to the care of their patients.
There is a very large and growing body of research across almost every area of health and medicine but finding and digesting that research is time-consuming and requires specific specialist knowledge and skills to be able to interpret the research. We help health professionals to take advantage of this rich body of research, with the ultimate aim of improving patient care.
In addition, if healthcare practitioners are interested in advancing their research skills in order to conduct their own research, we do have certificate programs that help them learn the basics of research, particularly in the area of biostatistics, an understanding of which is absolutely fundamental to anyone who wishes to interpret or conduct biomedical research in the era of big data.
What other certificate programs do you offer, beyond research skills?
We have a number of certificate programs covering a variety of areas, and these are especially popular with our community.
For example, we noted that there was a great deal of demand from healthcare professionals all over the region for a certificate program on the medical humanities, so we developed a program with our WCM-Q faculty members who are leading experts in this area. This has proved extremely popular across the region.
When you speak of the region, which countries, in particular, are you engaging with most?
Of course, our largest representation is with healthcare professionals in Qatar, but in addition over the last two years especially we have seen a large upswing all over the MENA region but also from South Asia, South East Asia, and Central Europe.
We have also seen a growing appetite and demand for some of our more specialized content from further afield and we are now even reaching healthcare professionals in North America and Australia. Interestingly, this trend became more pronounced during the pandemic but has continued despite the easing of restrictions in some places.
What do you think is/are the reason (s) that your programs and activities have proved so popular with healthcare professionals?
We are very gratified that we have met with a great deal of success, which in large part is due to the enthusiasm and dedication of the healthcare professionals in our community.
Beyond this, I think there are a number of reasons our activities have been so engaging: firstly, to return to an earlier point, a major reason for our success is that our activities are geared towards the needs of our community.
Additionally, we have embraced technology and remote delivery of our activities, which was particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic but was something we were already doing before then, just not to such a degree.
Indeed, one of our key successes recently has been our series of live webinars on COVID-19 delivered by expert speakers, which allowed us to reach very large numbers of healthcare practitioners across a wide geographical area and really enhance and increase their knowledge about a whole new disease that many people did not know how to deal with initially. Another reason for the popularity and success of our program is the diversity of our speakers. We bring in very highly regarded, internationally renowned speakers from elite medical institutions all over the world to come and share their knowledge and expertise with other healthcare professionals.
Furthermore, many of our activities are focused on not only enhancing knowledge but also on acquiring or enhancing practical skills in specific areas, which is quite rare and difficult to find in the region.
Another key reason for the popularity of our activities is the fact that they are accredited locally by the Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Healthcare Professions – Accreditation Section and internationally by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). This is something that is very important for healthcare professionals.
How do you gauge the success of your activities?
We evaluate all of our programs on a regular basis in a very systematic manner and we are interested not only in finding out whether the participants gained the knowledge communicated in the activity, but also in determining whether their competence and performance in the area improved. We conduct follow-up surveys with participants as much as six or eight months after they have attended to assess the impact of the learning experience on their actual practice.
Why is a robust continuing medical education/continuing professional development program so important?
As most people are aware and as we saw very clearly in the pandemic, medical knowledge develops very rapidly.
Most healthcare professionals recognize that what they learned during their training has been superseded by new knowledge or methods as new discoveries are made and new systems of best practice are established. Therefore, for any healthcare practitioner to stay up-to-date in their area they always need to be aware of the new literature that is being published.
However, it is often extremely difficult for healthcare professionals to find the time to study independently as they are so busy with patients, who are always their main priority. Our activities help solve this problem by providing opportunities for them to come together and update their knowledge on a regular basis in a very time-efficient, rigorous way. So, we support and enable our community of healthcare professionals to engage in lifelong learning for the benefit of their patients.
What do your participants tell you they value about your programs?
Our participants have been very supportive and speak very highly of the quality of the speakers we present to them. They value the fact that all the information presented to them is absolutely up-to-date, especially when it has a clear impact on clinical practice. We give them the opportunity to stay at the cutting edge, and they tell us they value that a great deal.
The participants also enjoy being able to interact with other healthcare professionals who take part in our programs and activities and in so doing to be part of a network and a community of peers sharing knowledge and ideas in both formalized and spontaneous ways. We call them ‘communities of practice’ and we know that our participants really thrive on these.
Clearly, this is something that happens more when activities are in-person, and that is something we are looking forward to seeing more of as the pandemic restrictions are gradually eased.
However, the virtual platforms we use provide a surprisingly effective means for maintaining and developing that community and we have made an effort to build in time for this type of interaction into our online activities.
Looking to the future, we hope that we will be able to develop both in-person and online communities of practice to more healthcare practitioners all over the region and across the globe, helping healthcare professionals continually enhance their skills and knowledge and ultimately improving patient outcomes.