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The promise of competency-based education in the health professions for improving global health

Larry D Gruppen1*, Rajesh S Mangrulkar12 and Joseph C Kolars2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Education, University of Michigan Medical School, G1113 Towsley Center, 1500 E. Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-5201, USA

2 Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, 3110 Taubman Center, SPC 5368, 1500 E. Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-5201, USA

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Human Resources for Health 2012, 10:43  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-10-43

Published: 16 November 2012


Competency-based education (CBE) provides a useful alternative to time-based models for preparing health professionals and constructing educational programs. We describe the concept of ‘competence’ and ‘competencies’ as well as the critical curricular implications that derive from a focus on ‘competence’ rather than ‘time’. These implications include: defining educational outcomes, developing individualized learning pathways, setting standards, and the centrality of valid assessment so as to reflect stakeholder priorities. We also highlight four challenges to implementing CBE: identifying the health needs of the community, defining competencies, developing self-regulated and flexible learning options, and assessing learners for competence. While CBE has been a prominent focus of educational reform in resource-rich countries, we believe it has even more potential to align educational programs with health system priorities in more resource-limited settings. Because CBE begins with a careful consideration of the competencies desired in the health professional workforce to address health care priorities, it provides a vehicle for integrating the health needs of the country with the values of the profession.