Competency-Based Education and Practice in Physical Therapy: It's Time to Act!

Phys Ther. 2022 May 5;102(5):pzac018. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzac018.


Competency-based education (CBE) is a concept, a philosophy, and an approach to educational design where learner progression occurs when competency is demonstrated. It assumes a set of standard defined performance outcomes for any level of professional practice-students, residents, or practicing physical therapists. Those outcomes are based on the health needs of society and guide the curricular design, implementation, and evaluation of health professions education programs. Lack of a CBE framework-with no required demonstration of competence throughout one's career-has the potential to lead to variation in physical therapists' skills and to unwarranted variation in practice, potentially hindering delivery of the highest quality of patient care. CBE requires a framework that includes a commonly understood language; standardized, defined performance outcomes at various stages of learner development; and a process to assess whether competence has been demonstrated. The purpose of this perspective article is to (1) highlight the need for a shared language, (2) provide an overview of CBE and the impetus for the change, (3) propose a shift toward CBE in physical therapy, and (4) discuss the need for the profession to adopt a mindset requiring purposeful practice across one's career to safely and most efficiently practice in a given area. Utilizing a CBE philosophy throughout one's career should ensure high-quality and safe patient care to all-patient care that can adapt to the changing scope of physical therapist practice as well as the health care needs of society. The physical therapy profession is at a point at which we must step up the transition to a competency-based system of physical therapist education.

Keywords: Education: Competency-based; Unwarranted Variation; Workplace-based Assessments.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Competency-Based Education*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Students