Monday, July 21, 2014

“A Curious Soul”

Philadelphia’s Derek Warnick Continually Reinvents His Role

A Profile for MAACME Members
Article copyright 2014 Harting Communications LLC, all rights reserved. 

Derek Warnick
Some colleagues who know him well describe Derek Warnick as a curious and witty introvert; others consider him a brave individual who embraces new ideas, his family, and good baseball. Now in his final week as grants manager for the continuing education office of Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Warnick coordinates the submission of proposals for commercial support across a broad range of therapeutic areas. Warnick has been working at Penn State more than two years, after being laid off from a medical education company in Exton. He starts a new job with a different employer on July 28.

“He is a curious soul,” says Brian McGowan, PhD, chief learning officer and co-founder at ArcheMedX Inc, an e-learning technology company based in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I love the man. I learn so much from him. I have an unbelievable amount of respect from afar, watching what he’s doing.”

Warnick, 41, has held a wide variety of CME-related jobs over the course of his career.  Like many CME professionals in a tough job market, he continues to reinvent his occupational role. When off the clock at Penn State, he ran D. Warnick Consulting from his home in Philadelphia. The company’s foray earlier this year into the fast-growing webinar business attracted the attention of many  members of the Mid-Atlantic Alliance for CME (MAACME). CMEPalooza was billed as an online confab where anyone could talk about any topic, so long as it was related to CME. The resulting variety show, recorded March 20 – 21, was such a success that Warnick teamed up with a business partner. Together they have been selling advertising sponsorships for a larger, more elaborate production, called CMEPalooza Fall, slated for October.

Engaging Speaker

Warnick’s work has attracted so much attention that in May he was named the most interesting person working in CME today in an informal Twitter survey. Stephen Lewis, president of Global Education Group in Colorado, and Murray Kopelow MD, president and CEO of the Accreditation Council for CME (ACCME) in Chicago, came in second and third.

As an example of Warnick’s ability to engage an audience, McGowan recounted an incident from this year’s annual meeting of the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions (Alliance) in Orlando, Florida. According to McGowan, conference organizers attempted a new format dubbed “Ignite,” modeled after the popular presentations on technology, entertainment, and design known as TED Talks. Half a dozen presenters were told to limit their talks to 5 minutes, using only 20 slides, when speaking before a plenary audience estimated at more than 1,000 people.

Warnick rose to the challenge by crafting a punchy presentation about producing interactive instructional material on a shoestring budget. His talk is remarkable not just for how it encourages listeners to persevere in their efforts to master digital technology, but also for how it offers an intimate portrait of Warnick family life: the slide show begins and ends with a tribute to Derek’s father.

McGowan, who has accepted an invitation to speak at MAACME’s next annual meeting, remains impressed months later. “Derek saved that whole session,” he says. “He came across as curious and intelligent. He made his message work in that format.”

Country Boy

Warnick was born in 1973 in Milford, Delaware – a rural area known for chickens, corn, soybeans, and a slower pace of life. As a boy he often visited his grandfather’s farm in nearby Greenwood. The image below, taken from Facebook, shows both of Derek’s grandfathers teaching him how to jump rope.

Growing up in Sussex County, Delaware

When Derek was 11, his family moved to be closer to his mother’s parents in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He lived there until leaving for college. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia in 1999 with a master’s degree in physical therapy.

Today, Warnick credits his rural upbringing for giving him a can-do attitude toward most problems. His father insisted that if something around the farm broke, whether it was a tractor or an electrical circuit, he could learn how to fix it. The father’s you-can-do-it mentality rubbed off on the son: while Derek Warnick has no clue how to fix a tractor, he does profess to have mastered Google Hangouts, WordPress, and other digital technologies.

“Never say ‘I can’t’,” Warnick advises. “You can. You just need to figure out how.”

Social Media Innovator

Warnick’s first job opportunity in CME came from the Office of Continuing Medical Education at Jefferson. Beth Brillinger, CCMEP, currently director of accreditation at CME Outfitters LLC, worked in the Jefferson CME office from 1998 to 2001. Warnick started off as a temp, but so impressed the office director, Brillinger said, he was quickly offered a permanent position as CME coordinator before being promoted to CME technical coordinator. Website development became an important part of his job duties in the latter role.

Brillinger, a MAACME member, has remained friends with Warnick over the years. They get together occasionally for lunch in the Philadelphia area, they catch up at the Alliance annual conference, and they carpool to an annual CME meeting in the Baltimore area. She would like to socialize more with his family, but busy schedules often intervene.

“I’m always impressed with the innovative ideas he comes up with,” Brillinger says. “That’s what makes him special. . . He follows through and makes them happen.”

For example, Brillinger credits Warnick with creating a regular meeting on Twitter called #CMEchat. The weekly gathering of social media enthusiasts, or tweetchat, began in 2011.  (For his part, Warnick shares credit with McGowan and Lawrence Sherman, senior vice president for educational strategy at Prova Education in Fort Washington.) While the weekly tweetchats ended last year, the hashtag #CMEchat continues to be used by many CME professionals as a readily identifiable place to post tweets where others with similar interests are likely to find them.

Brillinger also admires the courage Warnick displays when writing posts for his personal blog, Confessions of a Medical Educator. Sometimes he reveals intimate personal details, Brillinger notes, as in one post where a family member was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. In other posts he may criticize policy changes, such as the recent ban on corporate logos in CME materials that was announced by the powerful ACCME.

“He’s the one who says the emperor has no clothes,” Brillinger says. “He calls it like he sees it and a lot of people can relate to that.”

Job Changer

Warnick left Jefferson in 2006 to become a continuing education program manager for the nonprofit National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) in Fort Washington. There he oversaw accreditation of educational activities for both physicians and nurses, and managed the adaptation of NCCN’s now-famous clinical practice guidelines in oncology for physicians in China, Japan, Korea, and the United Arab Emirates.

Warnick left NCCN in 2008 to become CME director at Curatio CME Institute in Exton. There, as a member of the for-profit company’s senior management team, he created the program framework for a foray into the newest, most complicated, and most expensive form of CME: performance improvement CME. He also managed Curatio’s entire network of social media outlets, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and SlideShare, before being laid off in early 2012. The layoff, he says, was “a jolt to the system.”

Enter @CMEHulk

In the spring of 2011, when Warnick was still with Curatio and the new social media were just beginning to gain traction among continuing health education professionals, a new character suddenly entered the Twitterverse. @CMEHulk would burst in during tweetchats at hashtags like #CMEchat, #CMEregs, and #ACCME. The brash superhero would boast about earning his new CCMEP credential and threaten to SMASH anyone who dared to bend – even slightly  -- the stiff new ethical guidelines designed to keep CME independent of commercial influence. It was a masterstroke. By injecting humor into the discussion, @CMEHulk allowed participants to laugh, take a step back, and regain perspective of a high-stakes issue that could potentially put a med-ed company out of business.

@CMEHulk immediately garnered dozens of followers on Twitter. Many influential people continue to read his ALL CAPITAL TWEETS, including Robin King, former executive director and CEO of the Alliance; Erik Brady, PhD, CCMEP, director of analytics at Clinical Care Options LLC; and Sue Pelletier, editor of both Medical Meetings magazine and the MeetingsNet website.

Who dreamed up the character’s Twitter handle, assigned him a username and password, and now writes the script for his entrances, exits, and tweets? Some have suggested Warnick.

“I would love to think that it is,” McGowan says, “but no one knows for sure.”

Was @CMEHulk a way for Warnick to secretly fight the good fight against commercial bias in CME? Did it allow him to find vicarious expression for feelings of powerlessness caused by working in the CME profession during a perfect storm of deep economic recession, withering Congressional scrutiny, and rapid technological change? MAACME members may never learn the answer.

Warnick remains coy. @CMEHulk is “the great meme of the CME world,” he says. Warnick even claims to have had a personal conversation with the mighty ethics enforcer, but denies all knowledge of his provenance.

Yet, like @CMEHulk, Warnick enjoys poking fun at his CME colleagues. His LinkedIn photo, shown at the beginning of this profile and shot while on vacation in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, violates what many recruiters would say are standard conventions for professional presentation in today’s job market. Moreover, when Warnick emceed CMEPalooza from his home office in March, he appeared onscreen unshaven, dressed in a black T-shirt, with a Phillies pennant posted prominently in the background. The informality was intentional, he explains, in an effort to put his fellow presenters at ease.

“I think the CME world can be a little uptight,” Warnick says, “. . .  and lacking in a sense of humor.”

Future Exploits

What comes next for Warnick? He’s happy to report that he and Scott Kober, MBA, CCMEP, have sold four advertising sponsorships at the bronze ($500) level for CMEPalooza Fall, and one at the silver ($1,000) level.

How Warnick’s decision to accept a new, full-time position will affect the fall program remains to be seen. Until this summer, Warnick also planned to continue delivering consulting services for Jefferson, recently renamed Kimmel Medical College, as well as for several medical specialty societies. This plan is now moot, however, as he shuts down his consulting practice.

Warnick declined to state where he will report for work next week. “Suffice it to say that it is an excellent opportunity for me,” he wrote in an email, “and I am greatly looking forward to it.”


Note: MAACME members who are curious to learn where Warnick works next may wish to follow @CME_Scout on Twitter.

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