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National programmes for validating physician competence and fitness for practice: a scoping review

15 Apr 2016


To explore and categorise the state of existing literature for national programmes designed to affirm or establish the continuing competence of physicians.


Scoping review.

Data sources

MEDLINE, ERIC, Sociological Abstracts, web/grey literature (2000–2014).


Included when a record described a (1) national-level physician validation system, (2) recognised as a system for affirming competence and (3) reported relevant data.

Data extraction

Using bibliographic software, title and abstracts were reviewed using an assessment matrix to ensure duplicate, paired screening. Dyads included both a methodologist and content expert on each assessment, reflective of evidence-informed best practices to decrease errors.


45 reports were included. Publication dates ranged from 2002 to 2014 with the majority of publications occurring in the previous six years (n=35). Country of origin—defined as that of the primary author—included the USA (N=32), the UK (N=8), Canada (N=3), Kuwait (N=1) and Australia (N=1). Three broad themes emerged from this heterogeneous data set: contemporary national programmes, contextual factors and terminological consistency. Four national physician validation systems emerged from the data: the American Board of Medical Specialties Maintenance of Certification Program, the Federation of State Medical Boards Maintenance of Licensure Program, the Canadian Revalidation Program and the UK Revalidation Program. Three contextual factors emerged as stimuli for the implementation of national validation systems: medical regulation, quality of care and professional competence. Finally, great variation among the definitions of key terms was identified.


There is an emerging literature focusing on national physician validation systems. Four major systems have been implemented in recent years and it is anticipated that more will follow. Much of this work is descriptive, and gaps exist for the extent to which systems build on current evidence or theory. Terminology is highly variable across programmes for validating physician competence and fitness for practice.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open