Question: Who is more likely to be most current with the latest trends and practices within his profession - your family doctor or your local mortician?

Your family doctor may seem like the obvious answer, but it may not be the right one.In a rapidly changing world of high-tech advancements, more and more types of professionals are being licensed. And more and more states are requiring many of those professionals to stay abreast of the latest trends and practices within their specialties.

"The problem varies from profession to profession," said Dave Buhler, executive director of the Department of Commerce, "but the general idea is that it should be required in fields with a lot of technical advances or changes."

Ironically, the practice of medicine is not one of those professions for which the state requires continuing education. Burying someone is.

There are other ironies in licensing practices as well. Optometrists are not medical doctors and therefore are not allowed to treat eye conditions to the same extent as their medically licensed counterparts, the ophthalmologists. Yet optometrists have mandatory continuing education requirements; ophthalmologists do not.

Mandatory continuing education is not required of psychiatrists, who are also licensed to prescribe medication. Yet psychologists, who do not prescribe medicine, must have 24 hours of mandatory education per year.

According to Buhler, the concept of mandatory continuing education is to keep professionals abreast of rapidly changing technology and professional practices, particularly when public safety is at stake.

The state of Utah currently licenses practitioners in more than three dozen professions, only 10 of which are required to have mandatory continuing education to keep abreast of new research and development within the profession.

In most cases, professionals within those 10 disciplines requested the mandatory education requirements. They want to keep their profession as respectable and up-to-date as possible.

"Without the education restrictions, there would be a lot more flaky people in this business," said Mike Lambert, a Brigham Young University psychologist who also serves on a state licensing board.

More often than not, the education requirements also have a more practical purpose.

"In the mortuary industry there are so many new situations coming into focus," explained Charles Lindquist, an Ogden mortician who serves on the state's licensing board for morticians. "With the AIDS situation and the new information coming out on formaldehyde (embalming fluid) as a carcinogen, we need to get that information out to our people."

And morticians do that through mandatory education requirements - 10 hours over three years.

Psychologists adhere to national standards, and the mandatory ongoing education is merely a way to implement those standards and thereby protect the public against outdated methodology and techniques.

"What we thought was a good idea a few years ago may not be an accepted practice today. Psychology is a rapidly changing field," said Lambert.

If left to their own, the best in any profession will keep up, Lambert said. But many would not, and the mandatory continuing education is an attempt by professional psychologists to prompt those less inclined to attain minimum training in new methodology and practice.

Because of the potential impact of financial statements on businesses and the investment climate, accountants also have mandatory continuing education. "It's absolutely essential to update knowledge and skills every year," said Richard Goode, a Salt Lake accountant. "Things are changing so rapidly."

How effective are the mandatory education requirements? Most professionals admit there is not a lot of hard data to support the premise that such education requirements increase competency.

"Conceptually, it's a good idea. But it's more a factor of attitude than anything," said Goode, adding that professionals can go to classes or seminars, put in their time and get absolutely nothing out of it. "And that's probably true with any profession."

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