by Michael J. Shapiro | July 01, 2010

When the International Medical Meeting Professionals Association formed last year, one of its original objectives was to offer its own certification program -- one that "would be different from other association certifications, and more targeted toward the medical and health-care industry," describes Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, owner of the privately held association and president of the St. Louis-based independent planning firm Meeting I.Q.

"Having participated in several industry certifications," says Schaumann, "I knew the tedious path that was ahead of us in trying to get this one launched." But the certification board established by the association is making great progress, she says, in spite of the challenge of the undertaking. The board, announced at IMMPA's annual conference in May, will be co-chaired by Schaumann and Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, director of meeting and business event management at Metropolitan State College of Denver; 13 additional professionals sit on the board as well, representing a diverse array of industry perspectives. The board's mission is to create, facilitate and administer the Certified Medical Meeting Professional certification program.

IMMPA, by its nature, is a diverse global community, encompassing a slew of industry segments -- from corporate medical meeting planners to animal-health professionals to medical-device-company planners to pharmaceutical professionals -- to name just a few categories off a very long list. "The CMMP is not something that we just want to throw out there," say Schaumann. "We want it to be everything we hope for it to be, and to attain all of the goals we hope it will attain for our candidates taking the test." Those goals include coverage of the nuts and bolts of meeting planning -- for not every member of IMMPA is also involved with, or even aware of, planning-industry groups such as Meeting Professionals International and the Convention Industry Council -- but with a specific focus on the nuances of which planners in the medical fields must be aware.

And so, while the CMMP had previously been slated to officially launch this summer, the board is now aiming to roll out a sample test in the first quarter of 2011, to be presented for feedback to an invited group of experts -- a "Circle of Excellence" group put together by
IMMPA. If all goes according to the current plan, the association will issue official timelines, processes and study materials shortly thereafter.

"We want to cast a big net and get as many folks included in the certification as we can," explains Lisa Keilty, president of IMMPA and formerly a planner at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. "In order to do that, and to make sure we have a very robust test, we put together some categories -- or buckets, as I like to call them. All those varied buckets have nuances within the meetings that are planned."

Those buckets correspond to the association's targeted audience for certification, and they include the following: pharmaceutical; animal health; biotech; medical devices; hospitals, medical centers and clinics; medical associations, foundations and societies; allied health; academia, and suppliers.

That's a fairly broad audience, which means the IMMPA Certification Board has a significant amount of research to do. Clearly, the finer points of planning a pharmaceutical meeting, for example, will differ from those involved in hospitals or animal health. But that's only the top layer of complexity. "From there," says Keilty, "we've broken the buckets down into meeting type by audience." One subcategory, then, is colleague and internal meetings, under which fall business meetings, continuing medical education, product launches, sales meetings, incentives, promotion meetings and events. The other subcategory is health- care professional meetings, at which professionals such as doctors and/or nurses are present. These meetings generally carry with them a whole slew of codes and state, federal or international regulations, which vary by industry. Under this heading fall advisory board meetings, investigator meetings, speaker/consultant training, continuing medical education, grants, symposia and trade shows.

According to both Schaumann and Keilty, the diverse group of experts on the certification board goes a long way in facilitating the research required. "What I have learned in the last three to six months with IMMPA has been amazing," says Schaumann. "We've all been doing health-care and medical meetings for a living, but now we have learned so much about what everyone else is doing within these different segments."

In addition to the insight provided by these subject-matter experts, IMMPA has the support and expertise of St. Louis University, a partner in the CMMP development and application. The university may be doing the testing online and grading the exams, and it likely will offer some online prep courses accessible by any of IMMPA's global candidates.

Codes and legislation One significant area of concern to planners in these industries is the adherence to existing codes -- whether self-regulatory by industry or legislated by state, as well as what comes out of the new federal health-care reform law. "Health-care reform legislation will most definitely affect medical meetings where health-care professionals are present," Keilty acknowledges. "And, in every state, the laws are taking different paths in terms of issues such as thresholds of spend and what is or isn't reported."

While the association will offer education around these points, says Keilty, "It's very hard to put together a test that focuses solely -- or even partially -- on the laws that are out there, because they keep changing. We can't test on the nuances or specifics with respect to these laws. But a planner should know which laws and acts to check. It's going to be their responsibility, once they're certified -- and even as members -- to know how to access that information and get the latest updates."

That's where the resource center comes in, another IMMPA initiative that's unrelated to the CMMP certification. The association is working to compile a list of resources, accessible by members, which will provide the latest iterations and updates of all applicable codes and laws. This will be the kind of one-stop source for information the industry currently is lacking, says Keilty. Whether preparing for the CMMP exam or just planning a meeting, Keilty adds, members will be able consult the list for the latest and most comprehensive information.

Looking ahead The industry response thus far from planners has been very strong, according to Keilty. "And a lot of suppliers are showing interest, too. That's a market we hadn't thought as much about previously. But they're very interested in the specifics of what these groups need. This is going to be valuable for the suppliers who want to increase their market and understand how to work with these groups."

At the IMMPA meeting in May, a planner with a medical-device company approached Schaumann to say that her organization had recently laid down the law. "They said, ‘In the future, we are not going to be using any hotel that doesn't have the competency to put on a medical meeting. And with this certification, we're going to be looking only at hotels that may have someone on staff with that.' Well," says Schaumann, "that was pretty exciting for us to hear. If that's the future, we're thrilled."