Reinventing Health Care Credentials in a Pandemic: A Competency-Based Education Case Study

The Potential of Competency-Based Education –

The COVID-19 pandemic brought health care providers into the spotlight as public health and safety have become nationwide issues. The heroism and value of frontline health care workers have never been clearer. Even before COVID-19, health care faced persistent talent shortages, a root cause of which is traditional academic programs—prioritizing seattime based classes where learning is a function of time spent earning credits toward a credential. Such approaches fail to accommodate the learning styles and life circumstances of significant numbers of prospective health care workers. Moreover, seat-time-based education shortchanges skill building because a student’s mastery of skills is not measured.

Competency-based education (CBE) focuses on student learning and the application of that learning—what they know and can do—rather than time spent in class. That focus on the most relevant skills for a role creates a proven pathway to deepen and diversify the health care talent pipeline. CBE emphasizes student learning and the application of that learning as a competency, defined as “the capability to apply or use a set of related knowledge, skills, abilities, and intellectual behaviors, such as communication and problem-solving, to thrive in a defined career setting.” Each student’s progress is measured by demonstrating—through a system of rigorous assessments—the competence required for a focus area. In health care, CBE enables students to build on existing knowledge and skills to acquire the competencies employers need for in-demand roles. In 2020, as the pandemic spread nationwide,
multiple states dropped time-bound measures of learning in health care professions to license competent people as quickly as possible.