The PDSA cycle at the core of learning in health professions education

Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 1996 Mar;22(3):206-12. doi: 10.1016/s1070-3241(16)30223-1.


Background: The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle lies at the heart of continuous improvement and is a redefinition of the scientific method for application to the world of work.

Health care as a context for health professions learning: Educational institutions could create the best "quality learning" environments for students by relating closely to health care organizations that create improvement environments for workers. When both become "learning" organizations and develop a relationship with each other, an important product will be the integration of processes for individual and organizational learning.

The pdsa cycle as learning theory: The PDSA cycle can be an integrating theory for both individual and organizational learning. It shares basic features of well-accepted theory about individual and organizational learning, including the concepts of change and action/reflection.

Evaluating learning through pdsa cycles: An illustration is given of one set of implications of the PDSA cycle as learning theory. It describes an alternative way of thinking about the evaluation of learning, which surpasses the traditional emphasis on judgment in evaluation.

Conclusions: The potential to place the PDSA cycle at the core of learning in health professions education is great. Contributing factors to this potential include the historical emphasis on the scientific method in health care, the relationship between clinical education and practice, recent improvements in our capacity to define and measure health outcomes, emergent pressures for change in health care and education, and compatible multiple functions of the PDSA cycle.

MeSH terms

  • Competency-Based Education
  • Educational Measurement / methods
  • Health Occupations / education*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Models, Educational*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Program Evaluation / methods
  • Psychology, Educational
  • Science / methods*
  • Total Quality Management*
  • United States