Meeting Clinical Education Needs in a Tough Economy

Posted by Gary Solomon, MBA, OT, CHT on 08/01/2012

As the Education Division Director for ASHT, division members and I have faced the challenge of working to develop high quality clinical programs for members while recognizing that continuing education and travel reimbursement are significantly limited for most therapists.  The tug of war between realizing the value of continuing education programs, and the understanding of the costs involved in bringing programs to fruition has made our division examine alternative cost effective delivery models.
Cuts in continuing education funding challenge therapists at a time when programs are needed most.  Many hand therapists work in clinics where they are the sole hand therapist.  This practice pattern has developed from increased productivity demands from employers, as well as patients’ decreased willingness to travel more than a few miles to obtain therapy services.  Continuing education programs are not a luxury, but a necessity as the amount of on-site mentoring has decreased.  Therapists must find methods to accelerate their professional development and clinical decision making skills.
As times have changed, educational programs must also change.  Embracing technology and making continuing education programs easily accessible is a necessity.  ASHT is looking for new opportunities to minimize travel costs and bring continuing education to therapists, rather than expecting therapists to travel to course locations. 
'Traveling Courses' offer the opportunity for facilities to host a speaker and bring the content to local participants.  ASHT currently offers a traveling 'Hands on Orthotics' course where a facility can work with ASHT to custom design a course to meet specific needs.  The instructor arrives at the host facility with all supplies, and leads the workshop, eliminating travel costs for participants.  This model of continuing education has the added benefit of providing a consistent knowledge base for many therapists in a facility.  ASHT plans to develop further courses in this model.
Webinars and online learning experiences are also becoming valuable methods of delivering educational content.  Live webinar presentations allow participants to directly interact from their own homes with nationally renowned speakers.  Technology permits presenters to upload video and presentation media, encourage audience response and participation, and deliver an interactive experience.  The ASHT webinar series delivers high quality, dynamic, and cost effective learning experiences without the need to miss work or travel.
I still believe it is essential to travel to a course annually to interact with therapists from other regions and discover different perspectives to the clinical challenges we face.  Whether employer reimbursed, or not, part of being a professional requires a commitment which may involve personal financial involvement.  The ASHT annual conference delivers presentation of the latest evidence supporting treatment as well as instructional courses designed to meet the needs of therapists from new graduate to highly experienced clinician. 
A balanced but aggressive portfolio of continuing education will help therapists become more effective regardless of their specialty area, and assist them to thrive in a challenging economic environment.   With clinician and employer taking joint responsibility for professional development, patients will continue to greatly benefit from high quality therapy services delivered in a cost effective manner.
If you have suggestions, please contact us at education@asht.org, or even better, apply to join the Education Division and help shape our future offerings!