DeWaters AL, Miller EL, Haidet P, Gonzalo JD. Systems-based practice: expert perspectives on the origin and evolution of an ambiguous competency. Acad Med. 2024 Apr 1;99(4):424-9. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000005478

PURPOSE: Systems-based practice (SBP) has been a core competency in graduate medical education in the United States since 1999, but it has been difficult to operationalize in residency programs due to its conceptual ambiguity. The authors explored the historical origin and subsequent development of the SBP competency from the perspective of individuals who were influential across critical phases of its implementation and ensuing development. The goal of this study was to elicit the history of SBP from the perspective of individuals who have expertise in it and to use those findings to inform the current SBP construct.

METHOD: Between March and July 2021, 24 physicians, nurses, educators, and leaders in the field of SBP were individually interviewed about the origin and meaning of SBP as practiced in U.S. medical education using a semistructured guide. Individuals were selected based upon their influence on the origin or evolution of the SBP competency. Data were iteratively collected and analyzed using real-time analytic memos, regular adjudication sessions with the research team, and thematic analysis. Researchers identified themes from participants' perspectives and agreed upon the final results and quotations.

RESULTS: Five themes were identified: SBP has many different definitions, SBP was intentionally designed to be vague, systems thinking was identified as the foundation of the SBP competency, the 6 core competencies established in the United States by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education were developed to be interdependent, and the SBP and practice-based learning and improvement competencies are uniquely related and synergistic.

CONCLUSIONS: Interview data indicate that since its inception, SBP has been a nuanced and complex competency, resulting in a lack of mutually shared understanding among stakeholders. This deliberate historical examination of expert perspectives provides insight into specific areas for improving how SBP is taught and learned.

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