Competency-based postgraduate training: can we bridge the gap between theory and clinical practice?

Acad Med. 2007 Jun;82(6):542-7. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31805559c7.


The introduction of competency-based postgraduate medical training, as recently stimulated by national governing bodies in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and other countries, is a major advancement, but at the same time it evokes critical issues of curricular implementation. A source of concern is the translation of general competencies into the practice of clinical teaching. The authors observe confusion around the term competency, which may have adverse effects when a teaching and assessment program is to be designed. This article aims to clarify the competency terminology. To connect the ideas behind a competency framework with the work environment of patient care, the authors propose to analyze the critical activities of professional practice and relate these to predetermined competencies. The use of entrustable professional activities (EPAs) and statements of awarded responsibility (STARs) may bridge a potential gap between the theory of competency-based education and clinical practice. EPAs reflect those activities that together constitute the profession. Carrying out most of these EPAs requires the possession of several competencies. The authors propose not to go to great lengths to assess competencies as such, in the way they are abstractly defined in competency frameworks but, instead, to focus on the observation of concrete critical clinical activities and to infer the presence of multiple competencies from several observed activities. Residents may then be awarded responsibility for EPAs. This can serve to move toward competency-based training, in which a flexible length of training is possible and the outcome of training becomes more important than its length.

MeSH terms

  • Accreditation
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Competency-Based Education / standards*
  • Diffusion of Innovation
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / standards*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / trends
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Professional Competence / standards*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • United States