An expert-performance perspective of research on medical expertise: the study of clinical performance


K Anders Ericsson, Department of Psychology, Florida State University, 1107 West Call Street, PO Box 3064301, Tallahassee, Florida 32306-4301, USA. Tel: 00 1 850 644 9860; Fax: 00 1 850 644 7739; E-mail:


Context  Three decades ago Elstein et al. published their classic book on medical expertise, in which they described their failure to identify superior performance by peer-nominated diagnosticians using high- and low-fidelity simulations of the everyday practice of doctors.

Objective  This paper reviews the results of subsequent research, with a particular emphasis on the progress toward Elstein et al.’s goal of capturing the essence of superior clinical performance in standardised settings in order to improve clinical practice.

Results  Research following publication of Elstein et al.’s book was influenced by laboratory research in cognitive psychology, which resulted in a redirection of its original focus on capturing clinical performance in practice to studies of changes in cognitive processes as functions of extended clinical experience. There is currently renewed interest in linking laboratory research with studies of the acquisition of superior (expert) performance in the clinic.

Conclusions  Research on medical expertise and simulation training in technical procedures and diagnosis provide exciting opportunities for establishing translational research on the acquisition of superior (expert) performance in the clinic by capturing it with representative tasks in the laboratory, reproducing it for experimental analysis, and developing training activities, such as deliberate practice, that can induce measurable improvements in performance in the clinic.