Exploring Integration in Action: Competencies as Building Blocks of Expertise

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Abstract

Purpose

Competency frameworks such as the CanMEDS roles and the ACGME core competencies may lead to the implicit assumption that physicians can learn and practice individual competencies in isolation. In contrast, models of adaptive expertise suggest that the integration of competencies reflects the capabilities of an expert physician. Thus, educational programming aimed at teaching discrete roles or competencies might overlook expert physician capabilities that are central to patient care. To develop expertise, learning opportunities must reflect expert capabilities. To better understand the relationship between competency-based medical education and expert development, the authors sought to explore how integrated competencies are enacted during patient care by postgraduate medical trainees.

Method

Using a cognitive ethnographic approach, in 2014–2015 the authors conducted observations and—to refine and elaborate these observations—ad hoc informal interviews with 13 postgraduate trainee participants. Data collection resulted in 92 hours of observation, 26 patient case portraits, and a total of 220 pages of field notes for analysis. Through analysis, the authors identified and examined moments when postgraduate trainees appeared to be simultaneously enacting multiple competencies.

Results

The authors identified two key expert capabilities in moments of integrated competence: finding complexity and being patient-centered. They described two mechanisms for these forms of integration: valuing the patient’s narrative of their illness, and integrated understanding.

Conclusions

Understanding integrated competencies as the building blocks of expert capabilities, along with recognizing the importance of mechanisms that support integration, offers an opportunity to use existing competency-based frameworks to understand and teach adaptive expertise.

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