The number of doctoral degree-awarding programs in health professions education (HPE) is progressively expanding . Many academic institutions, HPE scholarship units, professional associations and health care delivery centers hire graduates with such advanced degree  to support innovations in curriculum, optimizations in teaching and learning, implementation of programmatic assessment and initiatives in quality assurance, as well as engagement in scholarship activities, resulting in publication . While there may be a general understanding of what these scholars can be employed for, activities that can be expected from doctoral graduates in HPE have not been defined.
Doctoral programs in HPE generally adopted traditional North American model which require coursework, research, publications, and a dissertation. In several other programs, students could acquire a PhD by choosing to specialize in HPE under the broader programs of higher education, psychology or sociology. There are also some programs that did not follow a structured curriculum, but candidates complete a number of publishable research projects through supervision and apprenticeships . The most important goals of the doctoral programs in HPE are to prepare students to conduct robust research, to pursue a teaching career at academic institutions and to identify complex problems in educational systems and produce innovative solutions aimed to improve the quality of life at individual, organizations, and society levels [5–8].
The literature about HPE doctoral programs is mainly focused on listing the institutions that offer a formal or less structured doctoral programs , and providing basic information about the role of programs and their various options , organizational structure , the process of supervision and quality of research . Other studies provided standards for PhD dissertations in HPE  or proposed tips for studying a PhD in HPE [6, 13]. One paper compared the instructional content of Master and PhD programs in HPE and mapped the links between the content of HPE programs and CPD roles and responsibilities . Despite the growing desire for recruitment of HPE doctoral graduates, the published literature does not necessarily address the expected activities that graduates in HPE doctorate should be ready to perform.
The Entrustable Professional Activities (EPAs) framework may be a mechanism to define the activities the HPE doctorate may be expected to do. EPAs describe activities of a profession that are performed by qualified persons, independently and proficiently; requiring integrated competencies in different areas in order to perform activities effectively . The description of EPAs can guide doctoral supervisors as well as trainees concerning the extent, specificity, and context of the training and assessment, and inform administrators, graduates and future employers about the expected activities .
There is a large body of literature on development and implementation of EPAs in health care education  including residency [18, 19] and undergraduate medical education programs . The EPAs of these medical training programs are mainly concentrated on different aspects of practice in clinical environment while activities related to doctoral programs are concerned with the requirements for academic environment such as research and teaching. There is also a growing number of studies on describing EPAs for other areas of medical education such as translational scientists , simulation leaders  and program directors . More recently, EPAs have been described for university teachers in the health professions [24, 25] in the context of faculty development for basic teaching activities  and small group facilitation [27, 28]. Mink et al. elaborated an EPA 'Scholar', to describing the competencies needed for residents to conduct scholarly projects in medicine . We found only one study related to EPAs in HPE scholarship. University of Michigan Medical School developed a set of 20 EPAs for a competency-based Master program in HPE and incorporated it in all learning experiences  and in the assessment procedures for the Master candidates . We did not find similar approaches in HPE doctoral programs. Given the lack of studies in doctoral training and distinctive features of this program, the purpose of this study is to develop and reach consensus on EPAs for doctoral graduates in HPE in Iran.
The first doctoral program started in 2010 in Iran. Ten years later, five Departments for HPE offered this degree around the country. These doctoral programs follow the North American model and the goals of the programs have been defined (the same for all five departments) as designing and conducting rigorous research projects in HPE, promoting innovations and development projects, supporting the process of change, providing consultations at different levels and Human Resource Development. Graduates are mostly employed in HPE scholarship units with the expectation of undertaking a range of responsibilities including education development projects, teaching and performing research. In 2015, a national project was started to develop the competency framework for doctoral graduates in HPE to guide HPE doctoral curriculum . Following that, the current study aimed at developing EPAs to direct the learning and assessment, and to provide evidence of competence. The proposed EPA framework could be applied in other HPE doctoral programs with similar aims and structure.