Develop a CE Strategy to Broaden Your Services

By Maria Higgins, OD

Oct. 21, 2015


CE builds skills that equip you to capture new opportunities—in pediatrics, dry eye, medical model. Choose courses strategically to develop clinical specialties.


CHOOSE COURSES WELL. Select the courses that build your skills in the specialties where you want to excel.

MAKE PLAN & SET BUDGET. Avoid last minute crunch by spacing out throughout the year. Budget could be as low as $300 for two years worth of CE.

MAKE MOST OF IN-PERSON EVENTS. Online CE is economical, butchatting with colleagues at courses at live eventsoften provides business-building tips.

Three CE courses have equipped me to sharpen my clinical skills and expand into new growth areas.

A Melton and Thomas drug update helped me feel more confident in my TPA skills. This increased my knowledge base on diseases. I have found that I tend to do more testing on a wider base of patients after learning about the uses of a specific instrument. I feel more confident in my therapeutic abilities after a class that focuses on that material.

The John McGreal coding lecture helped me understand the correct way to code for insurances.

And a course on tracking financial performance, given by an optometry consultant, focusing on key indicators to watch in your practice. Thisgave me real data to track and monitor for my practice’s financial help.

These are examples of how continuing education can be a practice-builder, if you apply a strategy to get you where you want to go professionally.

Realize Opportunity of Continuing Education

Fulfilling continuing education requirements is an ongoing challenge–and growth opportunity. I’ve learned over the years to carefully plot out my CE each year. Doing so avoids a last-minute crunch for credits, and gives you the chance to make the most of the chance to further your education.

Many ODs see fulfilling CE requirements as a chore. But revisit why these requirements exist: to ensure you continually build your clinical skills.

Doing so makes you a better clinician–and that benefits both your patients and your practice. In fact, there are a host of exciting areas and new technology–in dry eye, scleral lenses, OCTs, disease treatment–that have emerged and expanded since most of us graduated OD school.

So, plan your courses strategically…building toward the sort of practice you want to have and the level of skills and services you want to provide. —Maria Higgins, OD

Explore Online CE Options

I like to maximize online and journal hours. Usually, I will search out the full amount that is allowed remotely (in my case 20), and print out or bookmark the free courses. I also use free local conferences and dinners to complete the in-person requirements. To date, I have completed all of the online courses, and need 13 more in-person hours.

I complete the online and journal courses at my office on my computer between patients and other duties. I will occasionally do them at home or in a coffee shop (for some added fun) if I can’t get to it at the office. I will attend in-person ones to which I can drive, as well as those to which I travel and make a vacation.

The advantages of the computer and journal classes are that you can complete them at your own pace, you can usually find free ones, and they rarely actually take as long as the number of hours you are credited. The disadvantage is that you need to do some internet searching and journal scouring to find the ones that are free. Also, you must take a test and pass it, and there are no networking opportunities on your computer.

Make the Most of People-to-People Interaction

I meet many new people at CE conferences. I find that I learn more about practice management and gossip than clinical information from other ODs when between classes. I have reacquainted myself with old classmates, asked opinions on frame lines, and met some new doctors who have become a source of ophthalmology referrals.

Find Out How Much Leeway You Have in Areas of Study

You can choose your education topics, as long as they fit within the guidelines of your state. In Maryland, we can only apply four practice management classes to the requirements. We need to take at least 35 that are considered TPA or ending in these suffixes: AS, GL, NO, PD, PH, PO, PS, RE, SD, OP, RS.

I have a primary interest in practice management topics like marketing and office design because of my recently-launched venture of a business image consulting firm. Unfortunately, I am limited there. In general, these courses help me grow my knowledge base. Some of the best CE given is by Melton and Thomas. I feel like if I do that every year or two, I consider myself thoroughly updated in the drug arena. I also feel that if I go to a John McGreal coding lecture, no insurance company is a match for me.

Create a Spreadsheet to Track Your CE

I created a spreadsheet that keeps all of my CE requirements straight for me.


Research your state’s requirements, and enter those into the Excel document you create.Thentrack your CE. E-mail me at for an Excel spreadsheet like the download, which you can fill in with your own CE plans. —Maria Higgins, OD

Establish Your State’s Requirements

CE requirements vary from state to state. In my state of Maryland, I need 50 hours every two years. There are more specific guidelines depending on if your license is diagnostic or therapeutic. There are also specific guidelines for the number of credits that can be completed online, how many need to be designated as therapeutic and how many can be practice management related.

Map Out Throughout Year to Avoid Rush & to Enjoy

My current deadline is June 30, 2016, which is when Maryland licenses renew. I keep my CE needs in the back of my mind always. I prefer to use my CE as an excuse to travel, so the location is usually my first deciding factor. So, I am always watching for CE in exotic locations. The furthest that I have traveled to a class was Hawaii. Once, I ended a California coast road trip with education in Monterey. I have gone to a conference in England followed by a jaunt over to Ireland. CE is a beautiful way to see the world.

Set CE Budget

I have learned that if you pay attention, you can do your entire CE requirement for very little cost. You could do 20 hours of online classes that are free, and complete the other 30 hours at ophthalmology dinners that cost you only your gas and parking for a total of around $300. Or you can make each hour really experience-heavy and go to Italy, Hawaii and Paris for $30,000. On average, a credit hour will cost you between $20-$60. If you travel to the classes, you can write off the airfare to and from the conference, the hotel nights during the days that the conference runs and all your meals during the conference time span.

This year, I have tried to be more budget conscious on the CE side, and just take actual vacations in locations that are exactly where I want to be.

CE is a necessary part of optometry with which we can all have a little fun. Here’s to happy learning and enjoyable travel!

Maria Higgins, OD,owns The Unique Technique in Frederick, Md. To contact:

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