A critical time for medical education: the perils of competence-based reform of the curriculum

Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2012 May;17(2):241-6. doi: 10.1007/s10459-010-9247-2. Epub 2010 Sep 14.


Rapid expansion in scientific knowledge, changes in medical practice, and greater demands from patients and society necessitate reform of the medical curriculum. In recognition of this, medical educators across the world have recommended the adoption of competence-based education. This is intended to increase the rigour and relevance of the curriculum, move students beyond a focus on the memorisation and regurgitation of scientific facts, and better enable them to understand scientific principles and apply them to the practice of medicine. Experience from 40 years' use of competence-based curricula across the world suggests that the uncritical application of this approach to the medical curriculum may not achieve its intended aims. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from the history of competence-based education. By taking on board these lessons, confronting the pitfalls of this approach, and devising new and creative solutions to the problems inherent in this methodology, medical educators can better achieve their aim of providing a strong foundation for the practice of medicine in the twenty-first century. It is only through such a strategy-rather than the uncritical adoption of this educational approach-that we will have real movement and progress both in competence-based education in general, and in its applications to medicine in particular.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Education, Medical / trends
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Scotland
  • Teaching / methods*
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom
  • United States