Assessing Clinical Reasoning: Targeting the Higher Levels of the Pyramid

J Gen Intern Med. 2019 Aug;34(8):1631-1636. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-04953-4.


Clinical reasoning is a core component of clinical competency that is used in all patient encounters from simple to complex presentations. It involves synthesis of myriad clinical and investigative data, to generate and prioritize an appropriate differential diagnosis and inform safe and targeted management plans.The literature is rich with proposed methods to teach this critical skill to trainees of all levels. Yet, ensuring that reasoning ability is appropriately assessed across the spectrum of knowledge acquisition to workplace-based clinical performance can be challenging.In this perspective, we first introduce the concepts of illness scripts and dual-process theory that describe the roles of analytic system 1 and non-analytic system 2 reasoning in clinical decision making. Thereafter, we draw upon existing evidence and expert opinion to review a range of methods that allow for effective assessment of clinical reasoning, contextualized within Miller's pyramid of learner assessment. Key assessment strategies that allow teachers to evaluate their learners' clinical reasoning ability are described from the level of knowledge acquisition, through to real-world demonstration in the clinical workplace.

Keywords: clinical reasoning; medical education-assessment method; medical education-assessment/evaluation; medical education-cognition/problem solving.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Patient Care / standards
  • Patient Simulation
  • Problem Solving