What Behaviors Define a Good Physician? Assessing and Communicating About Noncognitive Skills

Acad Med. 2022 Feb 1;97(2):193-199. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004215.


Once medical students attain a certain level of medical knowledge, success in residency often depends on noncognitive attributes, such as conscientiousness, empathy, and grit. These traits are significantly more difficult to assess than cognitive performance, creating a potential gap in measurement. Despite its promise, competency-based medical education (CBME) has yet to bridge this gap, partly due to a lack of well-defined noncognitive observable behaviors that assessors and educators can use in formative and summative assessment. As a result, typical undergraduate to graduate medical education handovers stress standardized test scores, and program directors trust little of the remaining information they receive, sometimes turning to third-party companies to better describe potential residency candidates. The authors have created a list of noncognitive attributes, with associated definitions and noncognitive skills-called observable practice activities (OPAs)-written for learners across the continuum to help educators collect assessment data that can be turned into valuable information. OPAs are discrete work-based assessment elements collected over time and mapped to larger structures, such as milestones, entrustable professional activities, or competencies, to create learning trajectories for formative and summative decisions. Medical schools and graduate medical education programs could adapt these OPAs or determine ways to create new ones specific to their own contexts. Once OPAs are created, programs will have to find effective ways to assess them, interpret the data, determine consequence validity, and communicate information to learners and institutions. The authors discuss the need for culture change surrounding assessment-even for the adoption of behavior-based tools such as OPAs-including grounding the work in a growth mindset and the broad underpinnings of CBME. Ultimately, improving assessment of noncognitive capacity should benefit learners, schools, programs, and most importantly, patients.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Competency-Based Education / standards*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / statistics & numerical data*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / statistics & numerical data*
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians / standards*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data