CoffeeDid you know that a cup of coffee can cost over $9… when planning a CME conference?

In an interesting survey-based publication by Dr. Tabas (one of my colleagues) that just came out in Archives of Internal Medicine, we learn more about the ins and outs of CME activities. The authors set out to determine the audience members’ opinions about:

  • Commercial/ pharmaceutical support and its impact on bias
  • Their willingness to pay extra conference registration fees to eliminate outside support


  • Based on 5 live CME conferences, 770 of 1347 participants responded to the survey (57% response rate)
  • 88% of responders believed that commercial/ pharmaceutical support introduces bias.
  • 75% of responders overestimated the amount of funding provided by attendee registration fees (vs commercial support). Registration fees actually don’t cover very much in the big-picture of conference costs.  Did you know that a cup of coffee cost about $6.53 in a Los Angeles conference and $9.28 in a New York City conference? Ouch. No wonder registration fees are so high across the board!
  • Only 42% of responders, however, were willing to pay increased registration fees to reduce/eliminate outside support.
  • Some responders supported eliminating amenities by changing printed syllabi to online (56%), by holding the conference at a less desirable venue (50%), and by eliminating free food or snacks (50%).

As more and more academic institutions are imposing a blanket policy ban of commercial/ pharmaceutical support for CME activities, this study suggests that we should first look at the complexities behind hosting a CME conference before taking such sweeping actions. This study takes a fascinating first step in making the true operational costs and clinician perceptions transparent.


Tabas JA, Boscardin C, Jacobsen DM, Steinman MA, Volberding PA, Baron RB. Clinician attitudes about commercial support of continuing medical education: results of a detailed survey. Arch Intern Med. 2011; 171(9), 840-6. PMID: 21555662.


Michelle Lin, MD
ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Michelle Lin, MD


Professor of Emerg Med at UCSF-Zuckerberg SF General. ALiEM Founder @aliemteam #PostitPearls at Bio:
Michelle Lin, MD