Medical competence: the interplay between individual ability and the health care environment

Med Teach. 2010;32(8):669-75. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2010.500897.


Competency-based education in the health care professions has become a prominent approach to postgraduate training in Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and many other countries. Competency frameworks devised at national and international levels have been well received, and in many cases mandated, by governing bodies. However, the teaching and assessment of competencies pose questions of practicality, validity, and reliability. In this article we propose that competence and competencies be approached in the context of the particular clinical environment, such that the assessment of competence is tied to a trainee's performance of essential clinical activities that define the profession. Competence is implicit in the eventual entrustment of trainees to perform these professional activities. Competencies and "entrustable professional activities" (EPAs) relate to each other as two dimensions of a grid in which each EPA can be mapped back to a number of competencies. This backward visioning from EPAs to competencies is proposed as a guide to curriculum planning and assessment. The authors discuss experiences with this conceptual model in research, curriculum development and learner assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Competency-Based Education
  • Health Facility Environment*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Physicians / standards