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Academic Competencies in Medical Education

Photo courtesy of SUNY-Downstate

Photo courtesy of SUNY-Downstate

What exactly are “academic competencies”?  In the last several years, there has been a change in the way the acquisition of knowledge is evaluated in medical education. While this started initially in graduate medical education (i.e. during residency training) it has now trickled down to medical education (i.e. medical school) and is trickling down even further to undergraduate premedical education.  The Association of American Medical Colleges describes competency-based medical education as “a curricular concept designed to provide the skills physicians need, rather than solely a large, prefabricated collection of knowledge.”

A 2009 report written by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Association of American Medical Colleges, titled Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, defines competencies as “the habitual and judicious use of communication, knowledge, technical skills, clinical reasoning, emotions, values, and reflection in daily practice for the benefit of the individual and the community being served.”  The committee writing the report also defined competency as “the knowledge, skill, or attitude that enables an individual to learn and perform in medical practice and to meet or exceed the standards of the profession.”

The report divides competencies into eight that should be mastered during medical school and eight that should be learned as a premed student (see the link above for specific wording of the competencies). Taking this one step further, many programs are now using competencies to assess mastery of knowledge or skills. To get an example of how competencies are being defined and used by various medical schools refer to these examples from Albert Einstein, Stanford, UCSF, Northwestern, and Mt. Sinai. Competencies allow medical schools and residency programs to assess a broader base of knowledge rather than a narrowly defined one. As such, competencies are truly the wave of the future in medical education.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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