BMJ Qual Saf 20:96-101 doi:10.1136/bmjqs.2010.041814

Core competencies for patient safety research: a cornerstone for global capacity strengthening

Open Access
  1. On behalf of the Patient Safety Research Training and Education Expert Working Group of WHO Patient Safety
  1. 1Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA
  2. 2School of Health Policy & Management, York University, Toronto, Canada
  3. 3Department of Family Medicine, University of Calgary, Ontario, Canada
  4. 4The INCLEN Trust International, New Delhi, India
  5. 5Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, and Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  6. 6Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  7. 7WHO Patient Safety, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Itziar Larizgoitia, WHO Patient Safety, 20 Ave Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland; larizgoitiai{at}
  • Accepted 30 April 2010


Background Tens of millions of patients worldwide suffer disabling injuries or death every year due to unsafe medical care. Nonetheless, there is a scarcity of research evidence on how to tackle this global health priority. The shortage of trained researchers is a major limitation, particularly in developing and transitional countries.

Objectives As a first step to strengthen capacity in this area, the authors developed a set of internationally agreed core competencies for patient safety research worldwide.

Methods A multistage process involved developing an initial framework, reviewing the existing literature relating to competencies in patient safety research, conducting a series of consultations with potential end users and international experts in the field from over 35 countries and finally convening a global consensus conference.

Results An initial draft list of competencies was grouped into three themes: patient safety, research methods and knowledge translation. The competencies were considered by the WHO Patient Safety task force, by potential end users in developing and transitional countries and by international experts in the field to be relevant, comprehensive, clear, easily adaptable to local contexts and useful for training patient safety researchers internationally.

Conclusions Reducing patient harm worldwide will require long-term sustained efforts to build capacity to enable practical research that addresses local problems and improves patient safety. The first edition of Competencies for Patient Safety Researchers is proposed by WHO Patient Safety as a foundation for strengthening research capacity by guiding the development of training programmes for researchers in the area of patient safety, particularly in developing and transitional countries, where such research is urgently needed.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

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