Background: Medical education is not exempt from increasing societal expectations of accountability. Competition for financial resources requires medical educators to demonstrate cost-effective educational practice; health care practitioners, the products of medical education programmes, must meet increasing standards of professionalism; the culture of evidence-based medicine demands an evaluation of the effect educational programmes have on health care and service delivery. Educators cannot demonstrate that graduates possess the required attributes, or that their programmes have the desired impact on health care without appropriate assessment tools and measures of outcome.
Objective: To determine to what extent currently available assessment approaches can measure potentially relevant medical education outcomes addressing practitioner performance, health care delivery and population health, in order to highlight areas in need of research and development.
Methods: Illustrative publications about desirable professional behaviour were synthesized to obtain examples of required competencies and health outcomes. A MEDLINE search for available assessment tools and measures of health outcome was performed.
Results: There are extensive tools for assessing clinical skills and knowledge. Some work has been done on the use of professional judgement for assessing professional behaviours; scholarship; and multiprofessional team working; but much more is needed. Very little literature exists on assessing group attributes of professionals, such as clinical governance, evidence-based practice and workforce allocation, and even less on examining individual patient or population health indices.
Conclusions: The challenge facing medical educators is to develop new tools, many of which will rely on professional judgement, for assessing these broader competencies and outcomes.