SPIRIT K12 Scholar Competencies

PCOR Core Competencies

Research Design in Investigation

  • Formulate a valid and feasible research question.
  • Operationalize a research question in measurable terms and generate testable hypotheses.
  • Identify factors that affect validity of a study.
  • Find relevant literature using electronic resources.
  • Choose an appropriate research design.
  • Work as an independent investigator.

Responsible Conduct of Clinical Research

  • Identify ethical principles for decision making in the design, data collection, and reporting of research on humans.
  • Describe requirements for research involving vulnerable populations, e.g., children, women, underserved minorities.
  • Prepare an application for IRB review.

Tools for Patient-Centered Research

  • Understand the strategies and tools needed for community-engaged research.
  • Understand organizational factors that influence innovation and uptake, and apply implementation science frameworks and methods to solve delivery system problems
  • Apply advances in genotyping and bioinformatics to, and consider the implications of molecular medicine for investigation of patient-informed clinical research questions.
  • Understand the strategies and tools needed to assess and respond to stakeholder needs
  • Methods of patient-centeredness and engagement, including involvement of patients in all stages of improving care processes (care co-design and co-production)
  • Understand strategies for engaging health system personnel in learning and change

Clinical Epidemiology Approaches

  • Identify and describe population patterns of health-related risk factors and health-related outcomes in terms of person, place, and time.
  • Calculate and interpret measures of event frequency (e.g., prevalence, incidence) and measures of association (e.g. odds ratio, relative risk, attributable risk) and be able to articulate the uses and limitations of these measures.
  • Understand and be able to apply analytical approaches to data from different epidemiologic study designs (e.g., cross-sectional, cohort, randomized studies).
  • Understand epidemiologic concepts of causal inference, including bias, confounding, and effect modification, and be able to apply study design and analytical approaches to minimize, assess, or account for them in epidemiologic studies.


  • Critique the strength of research results based on design and statistical features of a clinical research study.
  • Carry out basic statistical analyses, e.g., t-tests, correlations, ANOVA, and survival analysis.
  • Interpret values, effect sizes, odds ratios, and confidence intervals.
  • Use methods including time series, statistical process control, and system science methods (working knowledge of agent-based modeling, simulation)

Communication Skills

  • Appreciate the value of team science.
  • Demonstrate skills in research collaboration with colleagues from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Prepare a research report for peer-reviewed publication.
  • Provide peer review of a manuscript for publication or a grant application for funding.
  • Present the findings of a research study in a way that is targeted to the intended audience, from peers to community members.


  • Locate funding opportunities.
  • Prepare a NIH, AHRQ, or PCORI research grant application in response to a FOA.
  • Prepare and justify a grant budget.


Learning Health System (LHS) Core Competencies

As the SPIRIT K12 program curriculum develops and evolves annually, we shall be guided by the AHRQ-supported LHS Researcher Core Competencies recently published in Health Services Research: Forrest CB, Chesley FD, Jr., Tregear ML, Mistry KB. Development of the learning health system researcher core competencies. Health Serv Res 2018;53(4, Part I):2615-2632. These competencies encompass seven domains, across which 33 core competencies are prioritized: (1) systems science; (2) research questions and standards of scientific evidence; (3) research methods; (4) informatics; (5) ethics of research and implementation in health systems; (6) improvement and implementation science; and (7) engagement, leadership, and research management.