Mapping clinical reasoning literature across the health professions: a scoping review

Meredith E. Young*, Aliki Thomas, Stuart Lubarsky, David Gordon, Larry D. Gruppen, Joseph Rencic, Tiffany Ballard, Eric Holmboe, Ana Da Silva, Temple Ratcliffe, Lambert Schuwirth, Valerie Dory, Steven J. Durning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background Clinical reasoning is at the core of health professionals' practice. A mapping of what constitutes clinical reasoning could support the teaching, development, and assessment of clinical reasoning across the health professions. Methods We conducted a scoping study to map the literature on clinical reasoning across health professions literature in the context of a larger Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) review on clinical reasoning assessment. Seven databases were searched using subheadings and terms relating to clinical reasoning, assessment, and Health Professions. Data analysis focused on a comprehensive analysis of bibliometric characteristics and the use of varied terminology to refer to clinical reasoning. Results Literature identified: 625 papers spanning 47 years (1968-2014), in 155 journals, from 544 first authors, across eighteen Health Professions. Thirty-seven percent of papers used the term clinical reasoning; and 110 other terms referring to the concept of clinical reasoning were identified. Consensus on the categorization of terms was reached for 65 terms across six different categories: reasoning skills, reasoning performance, reasoning process, outcome of reasoning, context of reasoning, and purpose/goal of reasoning. Categories of terminology used differed across Health Professions and publication types. Discussion Many diverse terms were present and were used differently across literature contexts. These terms likely reflect different operationalisations, or conceptualizations, of clinical reasoning as well as the complex, multi-dimensional nature of this concept. We advise authors to make the intended meaning of 'clinical reasoning' and associated terms in their work explicit in order to facilitate teaching, assessment, and research communication.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2020


  • Clinical reasoning
  • Health professions
  • Synthesis
  • Scoping review
  • Teaching
  • Assessment
  • Education

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