Ottawa Conference History

Professor Ian Hart (dec'd)

The Ottawa Conferences on the Assessment of Competence in Medicine and the Healthcare Professions were set up by Professor Ian Hart (Ottawa, Canada) and Professor Ronald Harden (Dundee, UK) in 1985. Held biennially they provide a forum for medical and other healthcare professions educators to network and share ideas on all aspects of the assessment of competence in both clinical and non-clinical domains, throughout the continuum of education.

Professor Ronald Harden

The 1970s and 1980s saw the development and introduction of new approaches to the assessment of students in the health care professions including, in the UK, the objective structured clinical examination (OSCE). This allowed a more reliable assessment to be made of communication and other clinical skills, competencies previously not adequately assessed. Ian Hart, at that time spending a sabbatical in Dundee, and Ronald Harden concluded that there was a need for an international conference on the topic of assessment of clinical competence, to facilitate the sharing of views and experiences from different countries.

​The First Conference
A conference was held in Ottawa in June 1985. Initially it was planned that 60 to 100 would participate. In the event, 250 participants came from 19 countries and four continents. Sixty-five papers were presented, authored by 133 contributors. In opening the Conference Jake Epp, Minister of National Health and Welfare of Canada, said “It is my hope that this meeting will encourage the development of international standards of medical education which will lead to further improvements in health care and health care delivery around the world.”



A Second Conference
The Conference was voted by those who attended to have been a great success and to have met a real need. The proceedings were published the following year. In response to requests from participants a second “Ottawa” Conference was arranged, sponsored by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and this took place in Ottawa in June 1987. Over 240 people attended and the papers presented and subsequently published covered a wide range of topics including written forms of assessment, performance assessment and the OSCE and in-training and in-practice assessment.



Biennial Conferences
The University of Groningen offered to host a third conference to be held two years later in the Netherlands and this set the pattern that has been followed since of a biennial meeting, known as the Ottawa Conference, held alternately in North America and elsewhere in the world.


The Ottawa Conference has established itself as a key event in the medical education calendar. There is now a community of regular participants from different professional and geographic backgrounds, and the number of conference participants has risen to over 1200. Since 2010 the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) has worked with the Ottawa Local Organising Committee in the delivery of the Conference, to ensure that the Ottawa Conference continues to maintain its own unique identity and role, with a clear focus on assessment of competence.


The conferences are noted for their friendly and welcoming ambience and we hope that they will remain so. Participants include both those new to the area of assessment and those with many years of experience to share. In looking to the future we are committed to maintaining the original conference aims, as set out by Jake Epp in 1985, of encouraging developments in assessment with a view to improving health care and health care delivery around the world.

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