by Hunter R. Slaton | January 01, 2008

James MontagueJames Montague,
CEO of the Professional
Meeting Planners Network,
is on a credential crusade.

It’s arguable that medical meetings are one of the trickiest, most pitfall-laden types of meetings a planner can take on. In addition to standard logistical concerns about F&B, audiovisual, rooming lists and so on, medical meeting planners also have to worry about complying with various sets of arcane and seemingly ever-shifting rules governing how such events are paid for, structured and conducted. In recent years, legislation governing medical meetings has grown even more stringent and complex.

This need for specialized expertise is what led the Professional Meeting Planners Network to create the first-ever certification for medical meeting managers. The program, which promises to add a new set of letters to a planner’s name -- CMMM, for Certified Medical Meeting Manager -- is made up of three separate modules. The first module includes general knowledge of adult education and the development of continuing medical education (CME) programs; the second covers the basics of meeting management; and the third module digs into the rules and regulations governing medi-cal meetings.

Three primary sets of rules are covered in the third module: the PhRMA Code, CME guidelines and Office of Inspector General guidelines. These regulations spell out (though not always in easy-to-understand language) what is and is not acceptable when planning a medical meeting.

Scott Graham, president of the Chillicothe, Ohio-based planning company Excellent Meetings, participated in the first CMMM pilot alongside Andy Silver, a director of training for the Michigan Department of Community Health. After the two went through the program, they were chosen by PMPN to calibrate it. It’s an endeavor that Graham, for one, believes is important: “The development of pharmaceutical guidelines since 2002 has caused a lot of change in the industry,” he says, “and this change needs to be conveyed to those who are planning these meetings. As professionals, we are always trying to be on top of our game to assist our clients, so we have to know what these guidelines are and how they came about.”

Prior to the CMMM’s development, there wasn’t a formal way in which medical meeting planners could learn the rules they needed to know to do their jobs well -- not to mention legally. That’s why, in the fall of 2004, the idea for the CMMM began to be explored internally within PMPN. In October 2005, according to James Montague, the organization’s president and CEO, PMPN worked with its own handpicked Content Advisory Board to assemble the information that would become the program’s first pilot version. “Originally,” Montague says, “it was designed for on-site medical meetings -- that got the ball rolling -- but the knowledge contained within the program is not only for that. Someone has to be aware of the guidelines, to know what is acceptable and what is not.”

In September 2006, after PMPN’s Content Advisory Board completed their work, an initial group of 13 planners sat down to take the 100-question test. (See “Test Yourself,” right, for a sampling of the questions and answers.)

Since that first dress rehearsal of the CMMM program, the response that PMPN has received regarding it has been favorable. After the pilot was completed, says Montague, “300 people wrote to ask when the next one would be.” He sees this as evidence that medical planners are truly hungry for a way “to take this dry body of knowledge and make it applicable in their day-to-day.”

Another group of planners now has that opportunity: The second pilot program, the result of a year’s worth of tweaks and revisions by Graham and Silver, got under way at the end of last October. On Jan. 19, this group of 10 Chicago-area medical meeting planners will take the certification test.

As for the future of the CMMM, Montague is optimistic -- but cautiously so. “There’s been an outpouring of people who see a need for this,” he says. “The biggest client of ours to express interest has been Advanced Health Media in New Jersey, which might like to put 200 to 300 meeting planners through the CMMM -- so once we get this fine-tuned and finished, we’ll get back to them.” But despite this favorable response, for the program to be accepted by the medical meeting industry as a whole, it will need to be adopted by an independent accrediting body, similar to the Certified Meeting Professional and Certificate in Meeting Management designations today.

PMPN has spoken to the Convention Industry Council about taking over the program after the second pilot is complete, but the CIC views the CMMM as an “emphasis,” rather than a standalone certification, says Montague, like an undergraduate English degree with an emphasis in creative writing, or a geology degree with an emphasis in paleontology. “At this point,” Montague says, “they’re not one of the takers.”

PMPN also is seeking support from both the Alliance for CME: The International Association of CME Professionals and the Global Alliance for Medical Education, as well as from a small group of universities. Unfortunately, as of today, great strides toward getting the CMMM accredited have not yet been made. “Right now,” Montague says, “we’re just working through the details.”