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J Grad Med Educ. 2009 Dec;1(2):287-98. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-09-00029.1.

Mapping cognitive overlaps between practice-based learning and improvement and evidence-based medicine: an operational definition for assessing resident physician competence.



The complex competency labeled practice-based learning and improvement (PBLI) by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) incorporates core knowledge in evidence-based medicine (EBM). The purpose of this study was to operationally define a "PBLI-EBM" domain for assessing resident physician competence.


The authors used an iterative design process to first content analyze and map correspondences between ACGME and EBM literature sources. The project team, including content and measurement experts and residents/fellows, parsed, classified, and hierarchically organized embedded learning outcomes using a literature-supported cognitive taxonomy. A pool of 141 items was produced from the domain and assessment specifications. The PBLI-EBM domain and resulting items were content validated through formal reviews by a national panel of experts.


The final domain represents overlapping PBLI and EBM cognitive dimensions measurable through written, multiple-choice assessments. It is organized as 4 subdomains of clinical action: Therapy, Prognosis, Diagnosis, and Harm. Four broad cognitive skill branches (Ask, Acquire, Appraise, and Apply) are subsumed under each subdomain. Each skill branch is defined by enabling skills that specify the cognitive processes, content, and conditions pertinent to demonstrable competence. Most items passed content validity screening criteria and were prepared for test form assembly and administration.


The operational definition of PBLI-EBM competence is based on a rigorously developed and validated domain and item pool, and substantially expands conventional understandings of EBM. The domain, assessment specifications, and procedures outlined may be used to design written assessments to tap important cognitive dimensions of the overall PBLI competency, as given by ACGME. For more comprehensive coverage of the PBLI competency, such instruments need to be complemented with performance assessments.

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