The goal of medical education is the production of a workforce capable of improving the health and health care of patients and populations, but it is hard to use a goal that lofty, that broad, and that distant as a standard against which to judge the success of schools or training programs or particular elements within them. For that reason, the evaluation of medical education often focuses on elements of its structure and process, or on the assessment of competencies that could be considered intermediate outcomes. These measures are more practical because they are easier to collect, and they are valuable when they reflect activities in important positions along the pathway to clinical outcomes. But they are all substitutes for measuring whether educational efforts produce doctors who take good care of patients.
The authors argue that the evaluation of medical education can become more closely tethered to the clinical outcomes medical education aims to achieve. They focus on a specific clinical outcome—maternal complications of obstetrical delivery—and show how examining various observable elements of physicians’ training and experience helps reveal which of those elements lead to better outcomes. Does it matter where obstetricians trained? Does it matter how much experience they have? Does it matter how good they were to start? Each of these questions reflects a component of the production of a good obstetrician and, most important, defines a good obstetrician as one whose patients in the end do well.