Faculty and Research

Competency-Based Education and Evaluation

Dr. David Chambers

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:

  • Identifying those learning experiences best suited to each stage of learning on the novice-expert continuum
  • Characterizing the circumstances or behaviors involved in transition from one stage to another
  • Understanding why some practitioners progress to mastery while others do not, and what circumstances surround these changes
  • The relationship between foundation skills, knowledge and competency
  • Context and selective attention factors in learning
  • Integration of cognitive, affective, and psychomotor learning


  • Chambers, D. W. Toward a competency-based curriculum. Journal of Dental Education
  • Chambers, D. W. Competencies: A new view of becoming a dentist. Journal of Dental Education
  • Chambers, D. W. and Gerrow, J. D. Manual for developing and formatting competency statements. Journal of Dental Education
  • Chambers, D. W. and Glassman, P. A primer on competency-based evaluation. Journal of Dental Education
  • Chambers, D. W. and Geissberger, M. Toward a competency analysis of operative dentistry technique skills. Journal of Dental Education
  • Glassman, P. and Chambers, D. W. Developing competency systems: a never-ending story. Journal of Dental Education
  • Chambers, D. W. Competency-based dental education in context. European Journal of Dental Education
  • Chambers, D. W. Faculty ratings as part of a competency-based evaluation
  • Chambers, D. W. Preliminary evidence for a general competency hypothesis. Journal of Dental Education
  • Licari, F. W., and Chambers, D. W. Some paradoxes in competency-based dental education. Journal of Dental Education

Dr. David Chambers, dchambers@pacific.edu, 415.929.6438