August 2002 Bulletin

The making of an OLC course

Behind the scenes, start-to-finish look at the creation of a surgical skills program

By Carolyn Rogers

Have you ever participated in an AAOS surgical skills course? Whether you’ve had the opportunity yet or not, you might be surprised to discover the amount of time, effort, coordination and commitment that goes into the development of a "typical" Academy CME surgical skills program.

This article is the first in a three-part series that will look "behind the scenes" at the making of an AAOS Orthopaedic Learning Center (OLC) Course. We’ll follow all the "key players" throughout the two-plus year process, from the time the AAOS CME Courses Committee first places a program on the master calendar to the final post-course "pow-wow" where the main players gather to discuss "the good, the bad and the ugly" of the course and decide how to make it even better the next year.

"The Old Days"

The Academy has been offering surgical skills courses to its members for more than 25 years. While the programs have always been premium educational offerings, the course experience was further enhanced in 1995 with the opening of the state-of-the art OLC at AAOS headquarters in Rosemont, Ill. Prior to 1995, the courses were held in hotels all over the United States.

"Early on, the coordination and planning was extremely complex because skills courses weren’t done in a clinical setting as they are now in the OLC," explains former CME course manager Judy Sherr. "Hotel ballrooms would have to be converted into O.R. set-ups with as many as 25 stations."

Back in the "old days," the registration process also was more elaborate because computers weren’t as sophisticated and the staff relied heavily upon manual labor to process registrations, lab selections, equipment selections, display assignments, etc.

Thanks to modern technology–and the features of the OLC in particular–the process has been "streamlined."

The AAOS course operations department, along with the CME Courses Committee, has established a course coordination/development process that runs like clockwork.

Year in and year out, the CME Courses Committee teams with the course operations department in presenting more than a dozen top-notch orthopaedic surgical skills courses. Recognized leaders in orthopaedics teach the courses using state-of-the-art equipment and lab facilities designed specifically for hands-on surgical education.

In the end, though, it’s the 500 Academy members who generously volunteer their time every year to serve as chairs, co-chairs and faculty for Academy CME programs who make the courses possible.

Sixteen AAOS surgical skills courses will be presented in the OLC in the year 2003. For this series of articles, however, we’ll follow the evolution of one course–the popular "Current Techniques in Knee Arthroplasty: Unicondylar, Primary and Revision" course, which will take place Oct. 25-27, 2002. The program is aimed at orthopaedists who are familiar with knee replacement but want to "expand their knowledge and hone their skills."

In the early planning stages, the key players in the development of an OLC course include:

CME Courses Committee

Working nearly three years in advance, the CME Courses Committee sets the schedule for both skills and non-skills courses–one year at a time. (The committee is a combination of the former Educational Programming and Orthopaedic Surgical Skills Committees.)

"We’ve already completed the planning for 2004," reports James H. Beaty, chair of the CME Courses Committee. "We’ll be planning for 2005 this fall."

The committee tries to cover all of the specialty areas in orthopaedics, Dr. Beaty says. "That includes spine, sports medicine, adult reconstruction, hand, foot and ankle, pediatrics, arthroscopy –every specialty area within the field. If there are any especially ‘hot topics’ at the time, we may have skills course on a more specialized area."

The committee’s next duty is to assign "course liaisons" for each course, the course chair and co-chair.

Course liaisons

The members of the CME Courses Committee include at least two people from every specialty area in orthopaedics, Dr. Beaty explains.

"So if we’re going to have a course on trauma, then the Committee members with that specialty will help us select a chair and co-chair," he says. "Later they act as ‘course liaisons’ between the Committee and the chairs."

The role of the course liaison is to make sure there is some "continuity of thought" from year to year, and to ensure that the course content meets the criteria the CME Courses Committee set out for it, says William P. Barrett, MD, course liaison for "Current Techniques in Knee Arthroplasty."

"In truth, the course chairs usually do such a good job with the course that all we have to do is some fine-tuning," Dr. Barrett says. "If the chair and co-chair have any problems, the course liaison is basically a trouble-shooter between the CME committee and the course itself. But problems are rare."

Course chair and co-chair

"We try to select a chair and co-chair who have good, solid teaching experience in the surgical skills center," says Dr. Beaty. "The chair and co-chair actually develop the course outline itself, and the committee fine-tunes it."

According to Dr. Beaty, the key guidelines that course chairmen are asked to follow when planning a surgical skills program are:

Once the chair and co-chair are selected, the course coordinators (AAOS course operations staff) send a list of "duties" to the chair and co-chair. The chairmen are asked to create and submit the course outline approximately 18 months in advance of the course.

"The chair and co-chair work together to develop the program," explains Daniel J. Berry, MD, co-chair of the knee arthroplasty course and member of the CME Courses Committee. Thomas S. Thornhill, MD, serves as course chair.

"In the first year the co-chair gets a feeling of how to make the course run well from the organizational viewpoint," Dr. Berry explains. "The next year the co-chair moves on to be chair and a new co-chair is assigned. The chair and co-chair typically have been faculty members in the course for a number of years and have a good feeling for the topics that should be covered and the teaching techniques that are most effective."

The chair and co-chair develop the curriculum and laboratory portion of the course, and the chair is responsible for faculty selection. After the committee approves the chair’s faculty choices, invitations are extended nearly two years in advance of the course.

"Many of the faculty have commitments several years in advance so we contact the faculty members 18 to 24 months in advance," Dr. Berry says. "The quality of the learning experience is very high and almost all of the faculty members that can participate choose do so. Most faculty members consider the opportunity to work at an Academy course a real privilege, and for this reason, we are fortunate to get tremendously high quality faculty. The faculty are required to provide several full days in a row of one-on-one teaching, so they are chosen for enthusiasm, expertise and stamina."

Excellent faculty/registrant ratio

To ensure that a faculty member is present at each lab table, one faculty member (24 in all) is assigned to each lab station in the OLC. The faculty/registrant ratio for most skills sessions is one-to-two; the ratio does not exceed one-to-four.

"We have a pool of local orthopaedists in the Chicago area who are often included on the faculty since they are in the ‘OLC’s backyard,’" Ann O’Neill, CME course manager, points out.

The faculty assigned to lecture, panel or discussion sessions are required to submit their outlines for the course syllabus three months prior to the course. For the arthroplasty course, the deadline is in August so that binders can be printed in time for the October course.

"This way, when you show up at the OLC, you’ll receive a notebook including all pertinent course material," Dr. Barrett says.

Marketing an OLC course

While things are settling down on the course development side, the AAOS marketing department is just getting started. It has the promotion of Academy CME courses down to a science.

For every Academy course, a chart is prepared projecting expected registration levels at one-week intervals, from 20 weeks prior to the program up until the day of the course. Projections are based on registration data from previous courses. Most surgical skills courses are limited to 96 participants due to capacity limits of the OLC.

"The marketing department has developed a standard marketing program for all Academy courses," Shannon Connelly, marketing manager, explains. This program includes:

Standard marketing efforts also include highlighting each course in the promotional newsletter–"Orthopaedics Resource Update"–that goes out with the AAOS Report.

Course expectations

The course is just a few months away, and Dr. Berry is confident it will prove as popular as ever.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for members to work one-on-one in a hands-on surgical skills labs with a world class faculty," he says. "Members will be able to fine- tune their skills in knee arthroplasty, from minimally invasive to complex revisions and everything in between."

While Academy skills courses are predominantly hands-on experiences, Dr. Beaty stresses that participants also benefit from other aspects of the course. "Some time is also spent on case presentations and discussion that can help people with their surgical judgment and options," he says.

"In the end, the point of the surgical skills courses is to give our members a place to go where they can focus on improving their skills in a technical way in an environment that allows for it," Dr. Beaty says. "That translates to better surgeries and better patient care in the long run. After all, that what it’s all about."

For more information on the "Current Techniques in Knee Arthroplasty" course, or to register online, log on to the AAOS Web site at and select "Medical Education." Click on "CME Course Calendar" and scroll down to the correct course.

For information/registration by phone, contact AAOS customer service at (800) 626-6726 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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