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Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000220
Perspectives

Milestones of Critical Thinking: A Developmental Model for Medicine and Nursing

Papp, Klara K. PhD; Huang, Grace C. MD; Lauzon Clabo, Laurie M. PhD, RN; Delva, Dianne MD; Fischer, Melissa MD, MEd; Konopasek, Lyuba MD; Schwartzstein, Richard M. MD; Gusic, Maryellen MD

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Abstract

Critical thinking is essential to a health professional’s competence to assess, diagnose, and care for patients. Defined as the ability to apply higher-order cognitive skills (conceptualization, analysis, evaluation) and the disposition to be deliberate about thinking (being open-minded or intellectually honest) that lead to action that is logical and appropriate, critical thinking represents a “meta-competency” that transcends other knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors required in health care professions. Despite its importance, the developmental stages of critical thinking have not been delineated for nurses and physicians. As part of a task force of educators who considered different developmental stage theories, the authors have iteratively refined and proposed milestones in critical thinking. The attributes associated with unreflective, beginning, practicing, advanced, accomplished, and challenged critical thinkers are conceived as independent of an individual’s level of training. Depending on circumstances and environmental factors, even the most experienced clinician may demonstrate attributes associated with a challenged thinker. The authors use the illustrative case of a patient with abdominal pain to demonstrate how critical thinking may manifest in learners at different stages of development, analyzing how the learner at each stage applies information obtained in the patient interaction to arrive at a differential diagnosis and plan for evaluation. The authors share important considerations and provide this work as a foundation for the development of effective approaches to teaching and promoting critical thinking and to establishing expectations for learners in this essential meta-competency.

© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges

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