Many of us are familiar with the special (read: stressful) time of year when competency exams or “comps” come around. It’s a time to review everything you have learned in both classroom and clinical experiences and demonstrate your ability to perform essential skills of the profession. For some, these comprehensive exams may come at the completion of your final year of academic coursework, or they may be interspersed throughout the length of your program. For most, successfully demonstrating these competencies is a requirement to continue on in your program.
As doctoral students in programs grounded in evidence-based practice, we understand the need to provide objective data on the progress of our education. However, with these high stakes surrounding the examination of competencies, we may lament the process. Especially now in 2020 when students’ access to clinical training hours have been limited or cancelled for large periods of time, ways to demonstrate skills readiness other than hitting hours quotas are on many audiology students’ and programs’ minds. The American Academy of Audiology (the Academy) and the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) support competency demonstration for students in these difficult times.
The framework of competency-based education is based on student-led learning and continuous evaluation with feedback. Core competencies are a standardized set of necessary basic skills for the profession and the desired level of mastery of each skill (NEJM Knowledge+, 2019). Your university likely has a list of core competencies available to you, and the Academy has developed a core competency tool of suggested skill levels prior to starting an externship.
Competence Suggestions for Students
- Be familiar with the competencies toward which you are working! Self-assessing your level of competence is a great first step to identifying areas to focus your studying and clinical practice when you have the opportunity to get back into hands-on experiences. If you haven’t yet taken a certain class yet or been to a particular clinical site related to a competency, you have the opportunity to look for resources to prepare for those experiences such as participating in Continuing Education Units (CEUs) even if you technically don’t need the CEUs!
- If you’re in a class that seems less clinically-applicable, or is hard to connect with, consider how it relates (even subtly) to your development of core competencies. Frame your studying with case-based questions to help put the topic in a clinical context.
- Have you ever had a preceptor ask you what you want to or need to work on? Share your core competency checklists with them and choose specific goals for your clinical time if appropriate! Don’t forget to ask for regular feedback and integrate it as you go.
- There are many situations where you might not be getting hands-on practice with a skill. Some placements may be observation only, telehealth, simulated patients, or one of any number of innovative clinical opportunities arising this year. While it may be harder to build competency without that hands-on practice, you can still structure your participation in a way to facilitate skill-learning! Try writing out workflows, taking photos of equipment and procedures as appropriate, and asking your preceptor to narrate their thought process.
- When it comes time to applying for externships and jobs, try formatting your resume with skills-based or functional formats, highlighting your mastery of core competencies. Be aware that application processes might also include clinical questions or demonstration of skills requirements.
- Don’t limit your learning to the basics! Core competencies are designed as an outline of the essential skills to do the job, which has long been debated as overly narrowing a profession to predetermined skills (Velde, 1999). Everything you need to know and provide as an audiologist isn’t contained within a standardized competency checklist. Competencies in other non-academic and non-clinical areas than audiology make you a better clinician, too (i.e. professional development and career readiness, self-management).
And as a final suggestion, remember in this pursuit of competency to be gentle with yourself. Mastery of core competencies develops over time, with practice and support.
American Academy of Audiology. (2012). Academia: NEW! Assessing Audiology Core Competencies Prior to the Externship Year. Retrieved from https://www.audiology.org/education-research/education/academia
American Academy of Audiology. (2020, April 3). Academy Supports Audiology Students. Retrieved from https://www.audiology.org/news/academy-supports-audiology-students
Kirkpatrick, D. (2019, June 5). Five Crucial Competencies of Self-Management. Retrieved from https://medium.com/redshift-3/five-crucial-competencies-of-self-management-c35c8fd9b07a
National Association of Colleges and Employers. (n.d.). Career Readiness Defined. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-defined/
NEJM Knowledge+. (2019, November 18). What Is Competency Based Medical Education? Retrieved from https://knowledgeplus.nejm.org/blog/what-is-competency-based-medical-education/
Velde, C. (1999). An alternative conception of competence: implications for vocational education. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 51(3), 437–447. doi: 10.1080/13636829900200087
Stephanie Berry is a fourth-year student at the University of North Carolina and is completing an externship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She is a member of the 2019-2020 SAA Board of Directors as the Education Committee Chair.
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