The ups and downs of cruising for CME

By Charles S. White, MD, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, MD

 Dr. White is a Professor of Radiology and Medicine, Vice Chairman of Radiology, Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, MD. He is also a member of the Applied Radiology Editorial Advisory Board.

If you have never gone cruising before, you ought to try it. By cruising, I am referring to sailing in a large boat on a body of water, not trolling around Hollywood like Eddie Murphy looking for cross-dressers. As I write this, my wife and I are on a weeklong cruise in the Baltic Sea.

There are a number of unique features about cruising. You pack once, dump your suitcase in a single room and only have to worry about repacking when it’s over. You stay in a room that is half the size of a normal hotel room that has a bathroom with a shower that won’t accommodate anyone with a BMI over 30 (borderline for me). Somewhat amusingly, the cruise line terms this lodging a “stateroom.” On the positive side, the food is all free all the time even for room service, an incentive to gain weight, increase your blood pressure, and slip into diabetic ketoacidosis. Cruising allows you to visit many interesting places with an itinerary that would be prohibitively expensive if done onland.

Some genius many years ago came up with the concept of having radiology continuing medical education (CME) courses on a cruise ship. The idea is to combine vacation with a tax deduction. It is perfectly legal, but some might regard it as a tax dodge. Ironically, many cruises go to the Cayman Islands, which you may recall is an offshore haven for tax evasion.

A few years ago, I participated in a Mediterranean CME cruise course as a radiology faculty member. The break-even point for attendance on a CME cruise is not all that large, around 20 or 25 attendees. Meeting planners also try to keep costs down by limiting the number of faculty. One faculty is their ideal number, but the generous planners may allow more. In our case, we had 3.

That was our first cruise. We brought along our teenage son and enjoyed ourselves because my wife insisted that we have a room with an ocean portal. One of my colleagues brought his wife and 2 teenage boys and made the mistake of choosing an internal room with no view. He usually showed up for his lectures with his hair standing straight up. The third faculty member brought his teenage daughter who made the mistake of telling the ship’s workers that she had a mild gastrointestinal upset. She was confined to her room for several days with all the DVD’s the ship had on board and gourmet room service. Her father would show up every day with a look of incredulity on his face.

Because of the limited attendance, CME cruises lectures are often held in small rooms in the bowels of the ship. It is preferable to have the room located in the middle of the ship because it moves less. This is particularly important if it is stormy and one has a tendency toward seasickness. In that case, it is more than the course that may have its ups and down. I have heard of one CME lecturer who started looking kind of bilious while desperately clinging to the podium during a particularly rough turn in the weather. Fortunately, we had relatively smooth sailing, with only one minor diversion. No Costa Concordia for us.

The lecture schedule is also very different than a typical CME conference. The talks have to be shoehorned into a very tight time window.Essentially anytime the ship is in port is off-limits for the schedule. The cruise lines run most of the excursions from the ship. These are very profitable and far be it for the lines to sacrifice a buck for the sake of conference attendees. So, lectures might run from 6:30 AM to 8 AM and then 5 PM to 6:30 PM, reminiscent of a ski meeting. Meeting planners really value the rare day at sea where there is no port call. That allows them to put together 10 to 12 hours of straight lectures, which is great for CME credits, but can leave most lecturers with laryngitis. It is remarkable that the conference attendees have the patience to sit and listen for all that time, which they do, when the next port of call is Rome. Some of them are clearly paying enough attention that they actually ask questions, a feat of concentration well beyond my capabilities.

We liked cruising so much the first time that we decided to do it again and leave the children and the PowerPoints behind. This cruise is not for CME. There is no tax deduction, but much greater peace of mind. 

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The ups and downs of cruising for CME.  Appl Radiol. 

December 05, 2012

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