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An integrated model of professional expertise and its implications for higher education

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The nature of professional expertise has been widely debated in the literature. However it has been examined primarily from a dichotomy of perspectives--either from an experiential or a cognitive focus, without the attempt to integrate these, and other aspects of expertise into an integrated and coherent model. This article presents the conclusions and a model of professional expertise emerging from a study set in the context of medical imaging in Auckland, New Zealand. The aims of this study were to: (a) evaluate the contrasting models of professional expertise; (b) demonstrate that the theoretical knowledge base and cognitive development of professionals cannot be separated from practice, and that current models of expertise inadequately integrate these dimensions; and (c) advance an integrated model of expert professional practice, which was refined through empirical research in the field of medical imaging. The study used a case study research method, and gathered data using interviews and critical incident recording from expert professionals over an extended time frame. This method was employed in order to uncover the interaction of significant factors characteristic of professional expertise. This required an in-depth approach and the extensive collection of contextually relevant data to enable the understanding required. Findings showed that while expertise is situated in the context of practice, it incorporates several dimensions working together in an integrated, seamless fashion through the medium of the individual practitioner. The participants identified and illustrated that expertise in medical imaging is a synthesis of a particular knowledge base, the cognitive processes, personality and internal processes of the practitioner. It manifests through, and builds on, interpersonal relationships with patients and other professionals, and is expressed through the actual doing of professional practice. It is through the reflexive examination of practice and management of change that professionals may transform these integrated aspects into the qualitative state of expertise. The study has implications for future research in other domains of professional expertise, and for the design and implementation of programmes of professional education, both formal and continuing professional development.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: UNITEC Institute of Technology New Zealand

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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