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What is a competent and capable doctor?

Competence and capability describe different aspects of your ability to perform safely, effectively and professionally in your professional role. There are many descriptions of competence and capability in the educational literature, but for the purposes of this curriculum we are using the following definitions:

  • Competence is the demonstration of your ability to perform expected professional tasks in accordance with agreed standards. A competency is a set of behaviours or attributes that you must show to the standard required to function safely and effectively.
  • Capability is about having the potential to become competent and, beyond this, to continue to develop towards higher levels of expertise, creativity and wisdom. To be a capable GP, you must recognise what level of competence is needed in any given situation and apply this successfully. This requires an awareness of the limits of your competence, the ability to extend these limits when required, and the flexibility to adapt to unfamiliar professional environments.

To have a successful and rewarding career as a GP, you will need to develop both competence and capability. In relation to GP training, the external MRCGP assessments (i.e. the Applied Knowledge Test (AKT) and Clinical Skills Assessment (CSA)) are primarily concerned with evaluating competence. Specifically, they consider your ability to demonstrate knowledge and skill to the standard expected of a newly-qualified GP in a range of common clinical and professional scenarios.

The development of capability will continue throughout your career. During training, this process is overseen by your Educational Supervisor. It is supported by the MRCGP workplace-based assessments and through other educational activities which encourage self-directed learning, formative feedback and critical reflection. Beyond training, your capability is demonstrated through continuing professional development, appraisal and revalidation.

The competences described in this curriculum have been organised into five simple Areas of Capability. These capabilities run as developmental threads throughout the GP training programme, linking earlier medical training with GP licensing assessments and post-licensing GMC revalidation standards. They build on the RCGP's groundbreaking 2007 core curriculum statement 'Being a General Practitioner' and the NHS GP job analysis [4].

Image for Being a GP

Figure 2: The Five Areas of Capability

Although it would be possible to define other areas of capability of relevance to general practice, these five have been selected because of their importance to the development and assessment of GP training within the context of the NHS. While separated for conceptual reasons, the five Areas of Capability should be considered an integrated part of your global progression towards generalist medical expertise, setting a trajectory that will continue throughout your career.

Within each of the five Areas of Capability, we have described the specific core capabilities and core competences a doctor is expected to acquire during GP specialty training (see Capabilities and Competences table).

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