In the cancer registry profession, initial training is only meant to get you in the door. Training programs provide the best and most current knowledge they can, but a Cancer Registrar’s knowledge base is continually advancing. It does not take long for the initial training to become outdated, hence the requirement for annual training.
Continuing education, or CE, is supposed to be the solution to this problem. It is mandatory for Registrars who are credentialed as Certified Tumor Registrars (CTRs) and essential to maintaining a competitive edge in the workforce. CE is intended to help us keep up with the advancing knowledge in our field and to learn new scientific, clinical, or personal development skills that are evolving every day.
There are some Cancer Registrars who view CE requirements with skepticism, resentment or even as an entitlement or benefit only employers are responsible for. This poses some interesting questions: Since the intent of requiring CE is undeniably good and necessary, why don’t Registrars enjoy doing it? And are the CE programs currently offered effective or addressing the right objectives?
But there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of CE. Let’s start with the basics.
There are many CE providers
CE hours for CTR credentials are provided by many different vendors and providers. Many are offered at no charge and others require a fee ranging from $15 to $50 per CE hour or higher. The National Cancer Registrar’s Association (NCRA) has wisely structured the Registrar’s CE requirements into Category A and other CE activities. This structure allows for a lot of freedom and individual choice in the CE providers, programs and hours that are taken for credit. Yet, with so many providers and opportunities across the country, it can be difficult to find the best courses in your area of interest or need.
Choosing a CE program may be based on limited information.
Registrars who are looking for a focused, skill-based CE course, the kind that appears most likely to improve their skill sets or address a gap in their practice, may spend hours reading course descriptions or pouring over vague learning objectives. The only way to know whether a course truly matches what you are looking for is to buy and take the course. Then, if the course did not deliver what was expected, the Registrar must turn around and seek out another course in the intended content area.
Choosing a CE provider or program can be daunting. There are many of them out there, they all claim to be great, but there are no ways to objectively compare them. Therefore, we end up choosing based on a few factors:
- Price and instructor(s). If the cost is low and/or the instructor is well known in the profession or someone the Registrar has had prior experience with, the choice may be simple.
- Personal recommendations. Registrars can ask their colleagues and peers about CE classes they have taken and enjoyed. However, these recommendations are inherently limited. The colleague can only speak to the courses they have attended, not to the hundreds of options they did not take. And, if they didn’t choose the best program for them, how would the Registrar seeking feedback know?
- Choice paralysis. This refers to the act of giving the Registrar so much information or so many choices that they effectively shut down and do nothing. One example of choice paralysis can be found on restaurant menus where the consumer finds 20 or more different concoctions for pancakes. How does one choose from so many?
Choice of CE provider is based on the requirement rather than the Registrar’s educational need.
We have all had those moments where we rushed to the Internet or to the NCRA webpage to find something quick, easy, and cheap (i.e., free) a few days ahead of our renewal deadline. So, no judgement is being passed. If only it were easier to quickly and objectively compare the content offered by multiple sources, we might more easily find the best value for what we are seeking or need the most.
Here are some useful tips for finding CE courses that deliver the best value from a cost and learning perspective:
- Know what you need
Look for something specific. If you only view CE as a checkbox to maintaining your credential, you will likely choose something based on cost and end up missing out on great opportunities to update your knowledge and improve your work practices. If you see CE as an investment in the quality of your work and pursue CE activities that specifically address known areas of weakness, you will find quality programs.
- Carefully review the learning objectives
You will see the objectives labelled as “By the end of the course, participants will be able to…” statements. Learning objectives are not designed to give you a full content outline of the course, but they are useful in understanding the level of achievement the course is focused on. If you are an experienced Registrar, you will want to focus on courses that are accepted by NCRA for CE and help you develop advanced skills beyond the initial training.
- Go for the stretch goals
Is there an aspect or an area of your work that you find interesting, but you don’t know that well or are not as proficient in performing your duties? Look for these courses and adopt a beginner’s mindset. You may be surprised at how much you can learn just by a simple shift in mindset. Own your proficiency, or lack thereof, on any subject and allow yourself to be influenced.
Avoid taking too many courses in the same subject areas or in areas of your work that you are already familiar with. Its nice to reinforce existing knowledge but there’s more value to invest in gaining knowledge that is genuinely new.
- Look for challenges
Many of the best CE courses are those that challenge your thinking or knowledge on something you have already been doing. We don’t learn from people who always agree with our way of thinking. Rather we grow when our thinking or beliefs are questioned or challenged. The trick is to not be defensive when we are challenged and instead take a closer look at our work. Be willing to consider updating your knowledge or practice if it is flawed or outdated.
In summary, finding the right continuing education course for advanced training requires exploring many different options. It is important that the Cancer Registrar know what type of education or training they need that will advance their current skill sets and challenge their thinking on their work. By careful planning the Registrar can select courses that meet their educational needs.
We hope that you have enjoyed this post on choosing CEs for Cancer Registrars. In our next post on this same subject, we will look at the categories and availability of cancer registry training in the United States today.
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