Competency-based surgical residency training is rapidly becoming the norm across surgical specialties. Ensuring that graduating surgeons are competent to deliver the necessary services and skills to their patients remains a seminal objective of training programs. Defining surgical competence, the measures used to assess and quantify that competence, and the criteria used to judge whether it has been achieved are critical issues. The bar that surgical residency programs have established is, and must continue to be, set very high.Definitions of competency differ across disciplines. In education, two approaches are recognized. According to the behaviorist approach, competence is assessed by precise measures of performance, generally documented by checklists. The integrated (holistic) approach defines competence as a complex combination of personal attributes. Assessments of competence also fall under two categories: the traditional scientific paradigm, emphasizing objectivity and reproducibility, and the judgment paradigm, reflecting the need to assess clinical competence in the final stages of medical training. In surgery, competence is the ability to successfully apply professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes to new situations as well as to familiar tasks. A critical step in assessing surgical competency is developing methodology for competency evaluation and certification. Matching different aspects of surgical competency with the appropriate assessment instruments is the theme of the contemporary evaluation process, with emphasis on a whole-task approach and the assessment of professional judgment. An effective assessment program will incorporate several competency elements, using multiple sources of information to assess competencies on multiple occasions, at various levels, and in different settings.
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