The Utah Medical Association may soon recommend that doctors must have continuing education in their field or lose their association membership.

Dr. John C. Nelson, association president-elect, said a committee is evaluating continuing education requirements, but delegates have not acted on the matter.It was legislators who determined that nurses, physicians, surgeons, dentists, pharmacists and some other health-care professionals should not be required to take courses to keep abreast of continuing medical advances.

Quite frankly, several physicians say the law change hasn't made any difference. Law or no law, good doctors keep up on the newest technology; poor ones won't, they say.

"Besides, it was not clear that there was any difference between those who attended the classes and those who didn't," Nelson said.

The reason? Physicians said the previous law had no teeth - no requirement that said doctors take courses that benefited them and their patients.

"An ophthalmologist could get six (credit) hours of proctology and fill the requirement," said Dr. F. Tempel Riekhof, a Salt Lake ophthalmologist.

Until restrictions were placed on tax deductions, some physicians took "vacation" courses; their continuing education classes were held on cruise ships.

The law that mandates that optometrists and podiatrists have continuing education is not as vague, the professionals said.

Walter Peterson, an optometrist for Standard Optical, said optometrists are required to take 15 hours of continuing education that is medically and pharmacologically related.

"It doesn't specify where the education must be obtained, but it must have prior approval by the State Board of Optometry," he said.

Like other surgeons, Riekhof believes a certain amount of continuing education should be required.

Meanwhile, he said, conscientious doctors are updating their education voluntarily. Good old Yankee competition demands it.

"It's hard to quantitate, but the feeling is that unless you stay on top, your colleagues will recognize that and they won't give you referrals," Riekhof said. "Most people who really are interested in practicing good medicine will seek new information."

They can receive it in a variety of ways. In addition to attending academy meetings, they can read journals, listen to medical tapes, attend educational seminars and hospital grand rounds.