Critical Thinking in Health Care Education

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Dental students observing dentist working on patient

Training critical thinking skills is required for academic and clinical success

For decades, health science educators have been working hard to train critical thinking in students and practicing clinicians. Academic and clinical success are directly related to critical thinking skills and mindset.

The challenge is to admit students who will (1) succeed in their training and licensure examinations, and (2) transition well to jobs that immediately demand strength in problem analysis and decision making.

Many clinical specialty programs receive an extraordinary number of applicants for a limited number of training seats.  The effort to provide thinking clinicians starts at the time of admission. Educating physical therapists, nurses, pharmacists, physicians, and all other clinical specialists requires years of course work as well as extensive clinical practice hours.

The power of critical thinking assessment data

Researchers have been studying the power of critical thinking scores at admission to predict clinical ratings, degree completion and licensure rates.

Studies in Dentistry, Family Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Audiology, Midwifery, Psychology, Dental Hygiene and others have demonstrated the added value of including a critical thinking assessment as a part of the admission protocol.  Additional investigations are underway for Physician Assistants, Respiratory Therapists, Dieticians, and other specialties. See Admissions, Retention and Licensure for short descriptions of these peer-reviewed, independent research studies using HSRT,CCTST and CCTDI.

Nursing student in front of nursing simulation mannequin

Evaluating effectiveness of critical thinking training techniques

Specific training techniques have been closely studied for their effectiveness in building critical thinking skills and a thinking mindset.

Significant gains in critical thinking have been related to problem-based learning strategies, the use of patient simulators, cased-based seminars, concept-mapping strategies, experiential learning programs, peer questioning techniques, and reflective writing exercises. Citations and summaries of these investigations can be found on this Training Techniques link.

Comparing admissions and exit scores over time

Following student cohorts over time and collecting a second or third measure of critical thinking skills and mindset at program completion has informed many educational researchers about

  • which particular skills and mindset attributes are commonly seen in admissions cohorts,
  • which skills and mindset attributes are improved in relation to particular training techniques,
  • which skills require attention in curriculum building.

Exit scores provide a baseline comparison when new curriculum is introduced.

Improving thinking requires explicit instruction

One claim is no longer in question: assuring and improving students’ critical thinking skills cannot be a matter of implicit expectation.

This is the conclusion Philip Abrami and colleagues who conducted of a meta-study examining 117 published studies comprising 20,698 participants, all documenting the importance of explicitly training critical thinking. The cases improve, that the controls either don’t show improved skills or they improve less. They advise that educators must also make learning objectives clear to students and provide pre-service and in-service training for educators to help them become increasing effective as trainers of critical thinking.

If you would like to read more about these studies, click on the links above, and also on this collection of study summaries on Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Smiling nurse graduate wearing stethoscope

Critical thinking as predictive indicator

International collaborations to create valid and reliable language translations of Insight Assessment test instruments now support a global research effort. Peer-reviewed studies from Hong Kong, Australia, Peoples Republic of China, Ireland, Canada, UAE, Turkey, Australia, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Japan, The Netherlands, Malaysia, USA and many other areas have demonstrated the predictive power of critical thinking skills scores as indicators of an accomplished health science student and practicing clinician.

In summary, Dr. John Eigenauer, reminds us that measurable gains in critical thinking are obtainable by implementing proven methods and best practices, which always include explicit instruction in critical thinking.

Our thanks to all of you educators and scientists who are who are providing evidence of the improvement of health science education internationally through the use of our critical thinking assessments and training programs.

Contact us today to learn how health science programs are using Insight Assessment powerful, nationally benchmarked assessment tools as part of their undergraduate and graduate student admissions process.

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