A Case Study Exploring How Professional Education Programs at a Mid-sized Canadian University are Conceptualizing and Operationalizing Entry-to-practice Competence Frameworks
Entry-to-practice competence frameworks and competency-based approaches to professional education are becoming increasingly popular in Canada and on a global scale. Although competency-based medical education has the potential to inform approaches to the development and assessment of competence across professional disciplines, there are contextual factors which make medical education unique. To date, few studies have compared how university-based professional education programs are using competence frameworks to guide teaching/learning and assessment in their own professional contexts. Consequently, the purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore how professional education programs at a mid-sized Canadian university are conceptualizing and operationalizing entry-to-practice competence frameworks. In Study 1, theoretical tensions between behavioural and integrated conceptions of competence were explored by comparing similarities/differences across ten professions’ entry-to-practice competence frameworks. In Study 2, an in-depth interpretive case study approach was used to explore how the assessment of competence is being operationalized in a highly resourced and work-integrated professional education program. Finally, in Study 3, an embedded case study was used to explore how nine different professional programs, with potentially fewer-resources and work-integrated learning opportunities, are approaching and perhaps problematizing the development and assessment of competence. Taken altogether, the findings of Studies 1, 2, and 3 suggest that how competence is conceptualized and represented matters and has the potential to shape how competence is developed and assessed at the program level. While limited in scope given the use of a single university, the findings highlight: (1) diversity in the approaches to operationalization being used across programs; (2) common attributes which can be used to classify the manner in which these programs operationalize the development and assessment competence; and (3) challenges with supporting academic faculty, who have academic freedom, to buy in to competence as a construct informing pedagogy and assessment. These findings can be used to inform policy and practice decisions about: (1) the role professional programs play in determining competence for entry-to-practice along professional pathways to licensure, and (2) programs’ intents for and approaches to operationalizing entry-to-practice competence frameworks in practice.