A collective case study of supervision and competence judgments on the inpatient internal medicine ward

Perspect Med Educ. 2021 Jan 25. doi: 10.1007/s40037-021-00652-1. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Workplace-based assessment in competency-based medical education employs entrustment-supervision scales to suggest trainee competence. However, clinical supervision involves many factors and entrustment decision-making likely reflects more than trainee competence. We do not fully understand how a supervisor's impression of trainee competence is reflected in their provision of clinical support. We must better understand this relationship to know whether documenting level of supervision truly reflects trainee competence.

Methods: We undertook a collective case study of supervisor-trainee dyads consisting of attending internal medicine physicians and senior residents working on clinical teaching unit inpatient wards. We conducted field observations of typical daily activities and semi-structured interviews. Data was analysed within each dyad and compared across dyads to identify supervisory behaviours, what triggered the behaviours, and how they related to judgments of trainee competence.

Results: Ten attending physician-senior resident dyads participated in the study. We identified eight distinct supervisory behaviours. The behaviours were enacted in response to trainee and non-trainee factors. Supervisory behaviours corresponded with varying assessments of trainee competence, even within a dyad. A change in the attending's judgment of the resident's competence did not always correspond with a change in subsequent observable supervisory behaviours.

Discussion: There was no consistent relationship between a trigger for supervision, the judgment of trainee competence, and subsequent supervisory behaviour. This has direct implications for entrustment assessments tying competence to supervisory behaviours, because supervision is complex. Workplace-based assessments that capture narrative data including the rationale for supervisory behaviours may lead to deeper insights than numeric entrustment ratings.

Keywords: Assessment; Competence; Entrustment; Supervision.