So you think you’re a Clinician Educator?

By Brent Thoma (@Brent_Thoma)

The term ‘Clinician Educator’ (CE) is used broadly. It is occasionally claimed by clinicians whose focus is leading educational programs and is a recognized promotion track at many institutions. Both Varpio et al  and Sherbino et al  have published definitions.

Table 1

Varpio et al further distinguish this role from health professions education research scientists and administrative leaders who also participate in educational scholarship.

Figure 1
Figure 1. The relationship between Clinician Educators, Administrative Leaders, and Research Scientists in Health Professions Education Scholarship (HPES). Adapted from Varpio et al. 

Sherbino et al also outlined the domains of competence of a CE:

Table 2
Adapted from Sherbino et al

My training (residency, a Master’s degree in health professions education, and a simulation fellowship) positioned me to meet the competency domains, but as a newly minted ‘Clinician Educator’ there were a lot of activities (e.g. curricular development) that I had relatively little experience with.

In 2016 the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada began offering an Area of Focused Competence (AFC) Clinician Educator Diploma. The Royal College AFC programs provide competency frameworks in various subspecialty areas that can be achieved through a formal program (such as the ones offered by McMaster University  and the University of Saskatchewan) or by demonstrating practice eligibility through the assessment of a portfolio. Those who demonstrate their competence become Diplomates of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (DRCPSC). This program interested me because of how the competencies aligned explicitly with those of a CE . After some remedial education, I demonstrated the outlined competencies through a practice-eligible assessment. I have since experienced the formal program as an external mentor for the McMaster CE program and a reviewer of applications from practice-eligible CE candidates.


I think the CE program (which is open to physicians around the world through the practice-eligible route) may provide a viable ‘education on education’ for a large number of aspiring CEs for three reasons:

1. It identifies competency gaps

As a competency-based program, the CE diploma provides an excellent review of what you know and what you do not. Although I had completed a master’s degree already when preparing my practice eligible application, I still identified gaps. Fortunately, I was able to meet eligibility in those areas through my educational responsibilities and put together a successful CE application. All in all, this process took me 3-4 months to complete – including developing and evaluating a new curriculum. As a bonus, the practice eligible application gave me a head start on my academic promotion application.

2. It offers credit for prior experiences

Relative to an advanced degree in education, the CE Diploma (and particularly the practice-eligible route) is more practical and flexible. It recognizes work demonstrating that you have done that demonstrates your competencies. Practicing CEs often have numerous examples of their work and getting this work ‘signed off’ as a demonstration of competence only requires providing that evidence.

3. Showing not just theorizing

Another advantage of the CE diploma is that it allows you to demonstrate the competencies in the service of an educational leadership role that you already hold. Rather than completing traditional assignments describing how to do something theoretically, you get credit for doing it.


There are many routes to becoming a successful CE and, while the definition does not require a credential, I think the list of competencies outlined within the CE diploma program are a good description of the competencies required for the role. I see the practice-eligible CE Diploma as an ideal program for an established educator with a broad range of experience who is interested in having their expertise recognized while identifying and filling any outstanding gaps while the program-based Diploma would serve as a great start for junior educators seeking a practical educational skillset.


COI: Brent Thoma is the Vice-Chair of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada’s Clinician Educator Specialty Committee. He receives no payment but is reimbursed for expenses related to the role.


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