Reflections of a new competence committee member

By: Linda Snell (@LindaSMedEd)

I recently became a member of a residency competence committee. Although I understand the theory behind a competence committee’s place in a program of assessment, and the need to collect, collate and interpret large quantities of varied assessment data on each trainee, it has only been since I joined the committee that I gained firsthand experience in the daily practicalities. Here are some reflections of my first months as a competence committee member.

Onboarding and orientation of competence committee members is essential. This should include the education concepts underlying competence committee, its purpose, and practical training in the platform used, and local processes of data review, analysis, and reporting. The role and responsibilities of the committee member should be clear.

Time is important. Preparation for competence committee meetings, reviewing assessments, and putting thought into their synthesis and interpretation, takes time. And reporting committee decisions back to trainees should be done in a timely manner.

The platform is a vital element – a good data management system can facilitate smooth committee functioning. Ideally each member can view data, dashboards and analytics on one easily accessible and usable program. It is also helpful to be able to share data during meetings, virtually or in person.

Qualitative data is at least as important as the numbers. The narrative can help make sense of the quantitative data. Read all narrative comments and look for patterns or common themes. This can be useful when writing progress reports.

All members’ perspectives help. A discussion of issues with other committee members may bring out diverse opinions, new perspectives or interpretation and will serve to decrease the bias of a single assessor. Following a review of each learner, the chair can summarize the discussion or decision to ensure consensus. This is a good example of the saying ‘education is a group sport’!

Communicate the competence committee decision to the trainee clearly and promptly following the meeting. The decision should include feedback on where the trainee lies on the learning trajectory, achievements, strengths, areas to work on, modifications to training (if any) and a timeline. There should also be a mechanism to ensure learners read the decisions promptly and can ask questions.

Maintain the quality of the committee. Members should periodically reflect on the functioning of the committee and act for quality improvement. The process, technology, documents, and content should all be examined. Recording these activities will also be helpful for accreditation purposes.

Competence committees improve the validity of trainee assessment. The act of taking all observed and reported data, interpreting said data, and making formative an summative decisions from it, reminds me of Kane’s validity framework.

Competence committees not only contribute to trainee learning, but they can also enhance the education expertise of the members, improve the culture of assessment, and contribute to program excellence. Oh yes, I must also say, being a member of a well-functioning competence is great fun!

About the author: LINDA SNELL, MD, MHPE, FRCPC, MACP, FRCP (London), FCAHS, is a Professor of Medicine and Health Sciences Education at McGill University and Senior Clinician Educator at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. 

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