Psychiatry peer review groups in Australia: a mixed-methods exploration of structure and function

BMJ Open. 2020 Nov 3;10(11):e040039. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-040039.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to examine Australian psychiatrists' experience of participation in a small group learning format of continuing professional development, known as peer review groups (PRGs), with a particular emphasis on group structure and functions.

Method: An exploratory mixed-methods study comprising a survey (n=77) and semistructured interviews (n=6) with Australian psychiatrists participating in a PRG in the previous 12 months.

Results: Qualitative findings indicate that PRGs address experiential learning through a focus on both breadth and specificity of work, as well as participants' experiences. Participants described using PRGs as a forum to manage difficult and complex work (through critiquing work, learning from one another, considering theory and guidelines, benchmarking, validating, reflecting and generalising learning) and to manage stress and well-being associated with crises, everyday stress and professional isolation. Particular structural aspects of PRGs considered essential to achieve these functions were self-selection of members, self-direction of meeting content and provision of a safe environment. These findings were convergent with the quantitative findings from scale survey data. Difficulties experienced during PRG participation are also described.

Conclusion: Qualitative and quantitative findings from psychiatry PRGs demonstrate how practice-based professional experience functions as both a source of learning and of collegial connection that contributes to well-being and reduction in professional stress. Study limitations and future research directions are discussed.

Keywords: health & safety; medical education & training; psychiatry; qualitative research; quality in health care.