Background: Although peer assessment holds promise for assessing professionalism, reluctance and refusal to participate have been noted among learners and practicing physicians. Understanding the perspectives of potential participants may therefore be important in designing and implementing effective peer assessment.
Objective: To identify factors that, according to students themselves, will encourage or discourage participation in peer assessment.
Design: A qualitative study using grounded theory to interpret views shared during 16 focus groups that were conducted by leaders using a semi-structured guide.
Participants: Sixty-one students in Years 1, 3, and 4 in 2 mid-western public medical schools.
Results: Three themes students say would promote or discourage peer assessment emerged: personal struggles with peer assessment, characteristics of the assessment system itself, and the environment in which the system operates. Students struggle with reporting an unprofessional peer lest they bring harm to the peer, themselves, or their clinic team or work group. Who receives the assessment and gives the peer feedback and whether it is formative or summative and anonymous, signed, or confidential are important system characteristics. Students' views of characteristics promoting peer assessment were not unanimous. Receptivity to peer reports and close positive relationships among students and between students and faculty mark an environment conducive to peer assessment, students say.
Conclusions: The study lays a foundation for creating acceptable peer assessment systems among students by soliciting their views. Merely introducing an assessment tool will not result in students' willingness to assess each other.