Background: less attractive specialties in medicine are struggling to recruit and retain physicians. When properly organized and delivered, continuing medical education (cme) activities that include short courses, coaching in the workplace, and communities of practice might offer a solution to this problem. This position paper discusses how educationalists can create cme activities based on the self-determination theory that increase physicians intrinsic motivation to work in these specialties. Main content: the authors propose a set of guidelines for the design of cme activities that offer physicians meaningful training experiences within the limits of the available resources and support. First, to increase physicians sense of professional relatedness, educationalists must conduct a learner needs assessment, evaluate cmes long-term outcomes in work-based settings, create social learning networks, and involve stakeholders in every step of the cme design and implementation process. Moreover, providing accessible, practical training formats and giving informative performance feedback that authentically connects to learners’ working life situation increases physicians competence and autonomy, so that they can confidently and independently manage the situations in their practice contexts. For each guideline, application methods and instruments are proposed, making use of relevant literature and connecting to the self-determination theory. Conclusions: by reducing feelings of professional isolation and reinforcing feelings of competence and autonomy in physicians, cme activities show promise as a strategy to recruit and retain physicians in less attractive specialties. 2021, The author(s).