Pre-clerkship EPA assessments: a thematic analysis of rater cognition

Eric G. Meyer*, Emily Harvey, Steven J. Durning, Sebastian Uijtdehaage

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Entrustable Professional Activities (EPAs) assessments measure learners’ competence with an entrustment or supervisory scale. Designed for workplace-based assessment EPA assessments have also been proposed for undergraduate medical education (UME), where assessments frequently occur outside the workplace and may be less intuitive, raising validity concerns. This study explored how assessors make entrustment determinations in UME, with additional specific comparison based on familiarity with prior performance in the context of longitudinal student-assessor relationships. Methods: A qualitative approach using think-alouds was employed. Assessors assessed two students (familiar and unfamiliar) completing a history and physical examination using a supervisory scale and then thought-aloud after each assessment. We conducted a thematic analysis of assessors’ response processes and compared them based on their familiarity with a student. Results: Four themes and fifteen subthemes were identified. The most prevalent theme related to “student performance.” The other three themes included “frame of reference,” “assessor uncertainty,” and “the patient.” “Previous student performance” and “affective reactions” were subthemes more likely to inform scoring when faculty were familiar with a student, while unfamiliar faculty were more likely to reference “self” and “lack confidence in their ability to assess.” Conclusions: Student performance appears to be assessors’ main consideration for all students, providing some validity evidence for the response process in EPA assessments. Several problematic themes could be addressed with faculty development while others appear to be inherent to entrustment and may be more challenging to mitigate. Differences based on assessor familiarity with student merits further research on how trust develops over time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number347
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Competency based assessment
  • Entrustable professional activities
  • Rater cognition


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