Toward a definition of competency-based education in medicine: a systematic review of published definitions

Med Teach. 2010;32(8):631-7. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2010.500898.


Background: Competency-based education (CBE) has emerged in the health professions to address criticisms of contemporary approaches to training. However, the literature has no clear, widely accepted definition of CBE that furthers innovation, debate, and scholarship in this area.

Aim: To systematically review CBE-related literature in order to identify key terms and constructs to inform the development of a useful working definition of CBE for medical education.

Methods: We searched electronic databases and supplemented searches by using authors' files, checking reference lists, contacting relevant organizations and conducting Internet searches. Screening was carried out by duplicate assessment, and disagreements were resolved by consensus. We included any English- or French-language sources that defined competency-based education. Data were analyzed qualitatively and summarized descriptively.

Results: We identified 15,956 records for initial relevancy screening by title and abstract. The full text of 1,826 records was then retrieved and assessed further for relevance. A total of 173 records were analyzed. We identified 4 major themes (organizing framework, rationale, contrast with time, and implementing CBE) and 6 sub-themes (outcomes defined, curriculum of competencies, demonstrable, assessment, learner-centred and societal needs). From these themes, a new definition of CBE was synthesized.

Conclusion: This is the first comprehensive systematic review of the medical education literature related to CBE definitions. The themes and definition identified should be considered by educators to advance the field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Competency-Based Education*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humans
  • Terminology as Topic*