Tensions in describing competency-based medical education: a study of Canadian key opinion leaders

Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2021 Apr 24. doi: 10.1007/s10459-021-10049-8. Online ahead of print.


The current discourse on competency-based medical education (CBME) is confounded by a lack of agreement on definitions and philosophical assumptions. This phenomenon impacts curriculum implementation, program evaluation and disrupts dialogue with the education community. The purpose of this study is to explore how Canadian key opinion leaders describe the philosophy and practice of CBME. A purposeful and snowball sample of Canadian key opinion leaders, reflecting diversity of institutions and academic roles, was recruited. A qualitative thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews was conducted using the principles of constructivist grounded theory. A modified integrated knowledge user checking process was accomplished via a national open meeting of educators, researchers, and leaders in postgraduate medical education. Research ethics board approval was received. 17 interviews were completed between September and November 2018. 43 participants attended the open meeting. There was no unified framing or definition of CBME; perspectives were heterogenous. Most participants struggled to identify a philosophy or theory that underpinned CBME. CBME was often defined by key operational practices, including an emphasis on work-based assessments and coaching relationships between learners and supervisors. CBME was articulated as addressing problems with current training models, including failure to fail, rigor in the structure of training and maintaining the social contract with the public. The unintended consequences of CBME included a reductionist framing of competence and concern for resident wellness with changes to the learning environment. This study demonstrates a heterogeneity in defining CMBE among Canadian key opinion leaders. Future work should explore the fidelity of implementation of CBME.

Keywords: Competency-based medical education; Definitions; Medical education lexicon; Postgraduate medical education.