Purpose: Peer assessment is a valuable source of information about medical students’ professionalism. How best to facilitate peer assessment of students’ professional behavior remains to be answered, however. This report extends previous research through a multi-institutional study of students’ perspectives about system characteristics for peer assessment of professionalism. It examines whether students from different schools and year levels prefer different characteristics of peer assessment to assess each other candidly, or whether a single system can be designed. It then identifies the characteristics of the resulting preferred system(s).
Method: At the beginning of academic year 2004–2005, students (1,661 of 2,115; 78%) in years one through four at four schools replied to a survey about which peer assessment characteristics—related to, for example, who receives the assessment, its anonymity, and timing—would prevent or encourage their participation. Multivariate analysis of variance was used to detect differences among institutions and students from each year level.
Results: Students across year levels and schools generally agreed about the characteristics of peer assessment. They prefer a system that is 100% anonymous, provides immediate feedback, focuses on both unprofessional and professional behaviors, and uses peer assessment formatively while rewarding exemplary behavior and addressing serious repetitive professional lapses. The system, they emphasize, must be embedded in a supportive environment.
Conclusions: Students’ agreement about peer-assessment characteristics suggests that one system can be created to meet the majority of students’ preferences. Once implemented, the system should be monitored for student acceptability to maximize participation and to determine the formative and summative value of the process.