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Acad Med. 2010 Jan;85(1):140-7. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181c47a5b.

Impact of peer assessment on the professional development of medical students: a qualitative study.

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, New York 14642, USA.



Peer assessment can predict future academic performance and provide medical students with reliable feedback about professionalism. It is unclear whether peer assessment fosters personal growth or transformations in attitudes or behaviors. The authors investigated what types of peer feedback students remember and what reactions or transformations students experience as a result of peer assessment.


In May 2005, the authors invited medical students from the second-year (n = 101) and fourth-year (n = 83) classes to provide narratives about how peer assessment affected their personal and professional development. All students had participated in peer assessment during required, formative comprehensive assessments. The authors analyzed responses using mixed qualitative-quantitative methods.


The 138 responses represented 82% and 69% of students from the fourth-year and second-year classes, respectively. Students recalled peer assessment content about both positive (e.g., teaching skills) and negative (e.g., overconfidence) qualities. Both positive (e.g., appreciation) and negative (e.g., anger) emotional reactions were reported. Many (67%) found peer assessment helpful, reassuring, or confirming of something they knew; 65% reported important transformations in awareness, attitudes, or behaviors because of peer assessment. Change was more likely when feedback was specific and described an area for improvement. Wholly negative responses to the peer assessment process were rare.


Peer assessment can be a powerful tool to assess and encourage formation of professional behaviors, particularly the interpersonal dimensions. Participants should receive training to provide specific, constructive feedback. The institutional culture should emphasize safety around feedback, while committing to rewarding excellence and addressing concerning behaviors.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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