Peer review: The untapped professional development resource

For nurses to feel connected to their organizations, leaders need to demonstrate support for their staff, and that includes fostering meaningful professional development.

Nurses want to know how they’re doing and where they can improve their practice. Yet our research suggests that many frontline nurses don't always have productive conversations about their performance. And even when they do, these conversations are often viewed (by both sides) as another box to tick, rather than a meaningful discussion about a nurse's practice.

Furthermore, staff may not always trust or value the feedback—positive or negative—coming from supervisors. Frontline leaders’ workloads are high, and they are increasingly removed from the day-to-day activities on the unit. As a result, staff may discount their feedback or feel that it is not as not as meaningful as it could be.

Equipping managers to carve out more time for visible leadership on their units is a worthwhile long-term goal. But some organizations are taking advantage of an often overlooked (and immediate) opportunity to provide staff with the type of feedback that will help their development.

St Vincent's Private Hospital works to improve professional development

Colleagues who work together on the floor day in and day out can be a source of both accurate professional feedback and emotional support. Recognizing this, St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Sydney, Australia, decided to tap into nurses’ own peers to satisfy their staff’s professional growth aspirations and meet Magnet® designation criteria.

In 2012, leaders began to evaluate various models of peer review through a comprehensive literature review. They formed a committee to discuss the different options and finally decided to design their own model and incorporate it into the formal annual appraisal process for nursing staff.

St Vincent's develops a custom peer review model

Recognizing that the evaluation needs and preferences of staff would vary from unit to unit, St Vincent’s model needed to be flexible, quick, and easy to use—without sacrificing meaning. It also needed to minimize the burden on busy managers, while providing staff with appropriate feedback and holding peers accountable for completing it.

Leaders developed a surprisingly simple process:

  • First, managers initiate the appraisal process and set a date for the final review.
  • Next, staff nominate two peers to carry out the review, and managers nominate two other peers.
  • Then, managers distribute a simple, one-page peer feedback form to the peer reviewers with instructions to return them within one week.
  • Finally, managers compile all of the peer feedback, anonymize the information, and deliver the final reviews to staff members.

Peer review yields positive results

Building a structure for nurses to obtain meaningful feedback about their performance from peers is having a positive impact at St Vincent's. Over 80% of staff who participated in the 2010 pilot of the new peer review process agreed or strongly agreed that the process had positively influenced their practice and added value to their performance review.

In fact, the model has been so successful that it inspired leaders at another Australian Magnet® organization, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Western Australia, to adapt and pilot a similar model—which resulted in similarly excellent results.

Implementing Peer Review? Save Time with Our Template

Our colleagues at the Global Centre for Nursing Executives created a customizable template that guides nurses in providing constructive feedback to their peers.

Download the template

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