Planning any type of meeting or event is always a stress-inducing affair, but with the rampant regulations in the murky world of pharmaceutical and medical meetings, planners best know the lay of the land before they accept the mission.

And with independent planners feeling the pinch from major hotel chains cutting their commission structure from 10 percent down to 7 percent, many may think investing the time and money to get a healthcare meeting planning compliance certificate or certification could be a wise career move.

“It’s something that the average person just entering the marketplace would have a hard time just jumping into the full-time planner position,” said Betsy Bondurant, a medical meetings expert and president of Bondurant Consulting, as well as the head of U.S. Operations for 3Sixty Event Consulting and Healthcare Venue Solutions. “One of the challenges is the HCPs [healthcare providers] still don’t understand what open payments and the reporting is all about, and don’t understand if they come to meetings they can’t bring their wives anymore, and why isn’t there a nice band playing during dinner?

It’s a fine line, and [it demands] people who are well seasoned and know how to have those conversations, and when it’s time to reach out to their client and get them involved.”

[Healthcare Meetings: SmithBucklin’s Benjamin Rabe Describes the Changing Landscape]

On top of understanding, and allaying, the concerns of meeting attendees—often doctors and executives who are well accustomed to a high standard of entertainment and F&B that would draw regulatory scrutiny—meeting organizers and planning teams must navigate a maze of regulations that differ depending on location.

“You’d have to stay on top of what’s happening in the state, but then also the U.S. federal code, but then there’s 10, 12, 15 city codes,” Bondurant said, adding that new global regulations restricting physician travel to meetings is adding a new problematic wrinkle.

“We’re now seeing even more regulations in Europe, where it used to be that a lot of pharma companies could support travel for European physicians,” she added.

“There used to be 40 percent-plus [physician attendance] from outside of the U.S.," Bondurant said. "Now the physicians are not able to accept that support, so how is that going to impact their education and ability?

“I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s not just U.S. regulations,” Bondurant continued.

“There are actually 89 countries that require them,” she said. “The rules and regulations are everywhere. There’s the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, ones in China and Japan and South Africa and Peru. … It’s just so hard from a meeting planner perspective.”

Medical Meeting Planner Certification Programs

The main point of difference in the pharmaceutical and medical meetings segment is between regulated and non-regulated events.

Betsy Bondurant, Bondurant ConsultingWhile planners of most any stripe can handle the logistics and other elements of non-regulated meetings, such as medical company sales meetings, when healthcare providers are entered into the equation it’s a whole new ballgame that requires specialists leading a planning team.

“Some of the larger companies may have 60 people on their planning team,” Bondurant said. “I would expect the agencies, such as Maritz or Ashfield [Healthcare], have staff that is fluent in the regulated [items] and some that are not doing that."

"They may not need to know the regulations in general but need to understand what each individual company’s interpretation of the regulations are."

Fortunately for meeting planners, suppliers and the organizations that rely on them, certificate programs are available to help steer the way, especially when it comes to regulated meetings.

Following are three of the major healthcare meetings certification programs currently available.

3Sixty Event Consulting and Healthcare-Venues' Compliance Program

Represented in the U.S. by Bondurant, 3Sixty Event Consulting is a U.K.-based company that is bringing its healthcare compliance training program to the U.S.

According to Bondurant, the following attributes are what makes its Healthcare Champion training program—run in conjunction with its sister company, Healthcare-Venues.com—stand out:

  • It teaches tailored methodologies for those managing healthcare meetings.
  • It provides an extensive exam, some elements of which are marked by its trainers, covering the skills needed to deliver healthcare meetings.
  • It provides perspectives when organizing national, “one-code meetings,” or international meetings where multiple codes need to be considered.
  • The content is applicable globally.
  • It provides a 12-month certification, renewable annually.

“Our courses are an intensive educational environment where real-life scenarios and skills development are central in understanding how to integrate compliance into every step of the meeting management process,” Bondurant said. “Tailored methodologies ensure the specific needs of corporate meeting planners, PCOs, meeting management companies, venues and all other parties involved in healthcare meetings are brought into simplified focus. The result: certificated individuals representing organizations that are empowered to deliver compliance solutions for international and national meetings."

The compliance courses are available online or in face-to-face or hybrid formats.

An Events Industry Council (EIC) preferred provider, the content is also available in an on-demand format and provides a certificate upon completion.

The cost is $549 per person, with training fees for groups based on company requirements.

MPI: Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate

Kristi Casey Sanders, MPI Director of CommunityMPI offers the Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate, which is the only compliance training of its kind specific to the regulatory challenges encountered by meeting professionals organizing or hosting pharmaceutical/life sciences, medical, biomed and medtech meetings, according to Kristi Casey Sanders, director of community for MPI.

The certificate is valid for two years and can be renewed via a webinar.

The four-hour course, which is offered at various meetings industry events, costs $499 for MPI members and conference registrants, and $699 for the standard rate. Registrants can purchase the Breaking the Code to Healthcare Compliance, 4th Edition ($89.95) textbook to read prior to the session.

There are also European, Latin American and Canadian versions of the curriculum.

According to MPI, participants will earn four clock hours in the Strategic Domain A: Strategic Planning area of the CMP program and learn the following:

  • What qualifies as a healthcare meeting.
  • A baseline of knowledge about healthcare meeting compliance.
  • A basic understanding of the reporting requirements.
  • What questions to ask, given their role in health care meetings.
  • What information to convey to their teams.
  • How guidelines/rules are constantly changing, so planners need to verify, verify, verify.

To further participants’ education and career growth, the association also offers the MPI-MD peer community of medical and healthcare meeting professionals to MPI members.

EIC: CMP-Healthcare Subspecialty

Launched in 2013, the Events Industry Council’s CMP-Healthcare Subspecialty, or CMP-HC, program is available to any meeting professional who holds a valid CMP certification.

To earn the CMP-HC designation, planners with a CMP designation must document 36 months of experience in healthcare meeting management and five clock hours of professional development specifically related to healthcare meeting management that has been completed in the past five years.

After meeting these qualifications and submitting an application, which costs $155, participants pay a $280 exam fee and then take the exam within one year of the approval of the application.

Planners are required to recertify every five years ($175), which is aligned with their CMP renewal.

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Liz Dombrowski, EIC Certification Manager“The CMP-HC is the preeminent certification for CMPs who focus on healthcare meetings management,” said Liz Dombrowski, certification manager for the EIC.

“The CMP–HC designation is awarded to recognize CMPs who meet the established prerequisite education and experience requirements, as well as the rigorously comprehensive exam," she added.

“CMP-HCs continue to demonstrate their continued professional competency through continuing education and experience to maintain this specialized credential,” Dombrowski continued. “That’s why the CMP-HC holds a distinguished place in the healthcare meetings market.”

As a point of difference, the EIC issued the following comparison between its certification program and other programs, which provide a certificate:

EIC Certification Program Basics

  • Results from an assessment process that recognizes an individual’s knowledge, skills and competency in a particular specialty.
  • Typically requires professional experience.
  • Awarded by a third-party, standard-setting organization, typically not-for-profit.
  • Indicates mastery/competency as measured against a defensible set of standards, usually by application or exam.
  • Standards set through a defensible, industry-wide process (job analysis/role delineation) that results in an outline of required knowledge and skills.
  • Typically results in credentials to be listed after one’s name (CMP, CMP-HC).
  • Has on-going requirements in order to maintain; holder must demonstrate he/she continues to meet requirements.

EIC Certificate Program Basics

  • Results from an educational process.
  • For newcomers and veterans.
  • Awarded by educational programs or institutions, often for-profit.
  • Indicates completion of a course or series of courses with a specific focus (different than a degree-granting program).
  • Course content determined by the specific provider or institution, not standardized.
  • Usually listed on a resume detailing education.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of course content at the end of a set period of time.

No matter what medical meeting compliance program a planner chooses to pursue, it definitely seems the benefits of certification are worthwhile for those looking to branch out in their meeting planning careers.