Competency is an approach to professional education grounded in the view that becoming a complete practitioner is a process that extends over a long period of time — perhaps 30 or more years. It is assumed that individuals pass through a general set of stages: novice, beginner, competent, proficient and expert. At each stage, a student or practitioner could be said to be able to perform the task in question, but in each successive stage they perform it in a different and more effective fashion. For example, first-year dental students can complete diagnostic checklists, second-year students can identify common conditions, and so forth. But only the master practitioner can diagnose the most complex cases.
Competency is the midpoint on the novice-expert continuum, defined as possessing the skills, understanding, and supporting values needed to function independently in the general dental context.
Competencies are essentially the standards for graduation from dental school. The American Dental Education Association has developed general statements of competencies for dentists and dental hygienists. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) requires that all dental schools develop their own set of competencies (including certain basic ones established by CODA) and provide evidence that students have met the schools' competency statements. Other professions, such as nursing, optometry, dietetics and business, have adopted competency as an approach to education across their professions.
Research conducted in the field to date indicates that new forms of evaluation, such as observing students perform tasks similar to those required of practitioners, is needed; the abandonment of numerical requirements in favor of competencies has no detrimental effect on clinic productivity; and dental competency appears to be a generalized concept that cannot be captured by adding individual discipline performance.
Some of the issues currently under investigation include:
Dr. David Chambers, firstname.lastname@example.org, 415.929.6438