A number of university programs aim to train new professionals in fields such as engineering, architecture and medicine. To do so, they are increasingly turning to a competency-based approach, which supports skills development through problem solving by having students tackle issues and obstacles similar to those they will likely face in their professional activities.
The most significant aspect of the competency-based approach is the strong professional identity it imparts.
Still, there is little scientific knowledge on how the programs actually contribute to professionalization. Marilou Bélisle, education researcher at Université de Sherbrooke, conducted interviews with 27 members of the student and teaching communities in a competency-based bachelor program in nursing to better understand the professionalization process.
Competency-based approaches help build a number of skills, including clinical judgement, scientific rigour and humanistic health care methods centered around respect, human dignity and the recognition of patients’ integrity and freedom of choice. But the most significant aspect of the approach is the strong professional identity it imparts. Students embark on their degree with the idea that members of nursing staffs are meant to execute tasks. However, once they complete their studies, they gain a vastly different understanding of their role. Study participants realized that nursing provides opportunities to take on leadership, management and training roles and stand up for patients’ rights, as well as deliver care. Nurse clinicians see themselves as agents of change who must assume responsibilities and use their professional judgment to benefit patients, medical staff and the population.
Marilou Bélisle’s findings reveal that, beyond skills development, competency-based approaches serve to reveal the various aspects of a profession and even create a much more complete professional identity.