PEER REVIEW for journal publication is at the core of knowledge development in nursing science. Simply defined, peer review is the evaluation of a publication by a group of experts in the same scientific or academic field. But peer review is not without its flaws and has been likened to democracy, a system with many flaws but the best of bad options.1 When done well, the process can be engaging for the reviewer, as they learn about new and emerging work, and helpful for the author to strengthen and clarify their ideas. All of this begs the question: What is good peer review, really? How is it achieved? And how can we foster capacity to ensure good peer review?
The purpose of peer review is to assist the editor to select high-quality publications for the journal at hand, to assist authors to strengthen works that have potential for publication, and to advise the editor when a publication is not ready or unsuitable.2 At its best, when papers are circulated to rigorous reviewers whose strengths and interests are aligned with the paper and journal, this system can be very useful. However, peer review has been critiqued for several reasons, including inconsistency of reviews, actual or perceived bias, and the time the process can take to complete.3 Many are familiar with “Reviewer Two” tropes, wherein 1 of 3 reviewers is always less than favorable, making assertions that the author cite certain articles (ostensibly from the person writing the review) or making erroneous suggestions about research methods. One well-known nurse academic tweeted that she was harshly reviewed and then told she should cite, who else, but herself. Others report receiving hostile reviews that create stress and anxiety for the author of the paper and do little to assist with the development of science in any discipline.4 Peer review has also been critiqued for both conscious and unconscious biases, confirmed through many experiments wherein previously published articles from prestigious well-known authors are then resubmitted and rejected when submitted by unknown authors.5
Alongside challenges with ensuring the integrity of the peer-review process, in the discipline of nursing, there is also a dearth of PhD-prepared nurses (approximately <1% of all nurse)6 and a looming faculty shortage,7,8 creating a pipeline problem for meeting peer-review demands. Thus, in nursing journals, editors contend with issues of both quality and capacity. Working with early career researchers (ECRs) in nursing to foster capacity in high-quality peer review may rightly serve to address both of these challenges.
In the fall of 2018, Editor Dr Peggy Chinn set out to establish a formalized mentorship program to develop ECR peer reviewers for this journal, Advances in Nursing Science. The purpose of this initiative is “promoting the entry of new peer reviewers for scholarly publication in nursing, and to more fully enact our dedication to diversity and inclusion in the publishing process ... to encourage and support early-career scholars who will play a critical role in the future development of scholarly literature in nursing.”9
Upon expression of interest from an ECR, a mentor is assigned, as well as a paper to review. The process as to how the peer review unfolds is left to the mentor and the mentee to negotiate. But it goes something like this: both review the paper, write up their responses, and then meet to discuss their review. The review is revised to include comments from both parties and then discussed with the editor, with whom the final decision rests. The ECR is then assigned as a peer reviewer with the journal or may be assigned to further journal reviews.
We (K.H., L.D.) were introduced by Dr Chinn to review a paper together in March 2019. As the mentee (K.H.), I have some experience peer reviewing but typically in more research-focused, less theoretically focused journals and I am still deeply entrenched in the “novice reviewer” category. Without getting into the details, Dr Chinn assigned us a challenging paper, for which I am grateful to have had a mentor.
Reflecting on the experience, the opportunity to review a paper with the expert guidance of a mentor was exceptionally helpful and exposed me to useful principles to guide the peer-review process. Interestingly, this was also an opportunity to interact with someone within the nursing discipline from a different country and completely unrelated research background. The diversity in research focus and backgrounds provided a nice contrast in how we approached the paper and was a refreshingly unique experience contrasted with often staid tranches of our illness or research-focused circles. Interestingly, we came to similar conclusions about the paper and were able to discuss those perspectives using a common and shared language. From my perspective as an ECR, the experience was worthwhile and serves to address those 2 core aspects of the peer-review pipeline in nursing: quality and capacity.
1. Cartes-Velasquez RA. Peer-review, like democracy, is not perfect but ... is it a sacred cow? J Oral Res. 2015;4(2):1.
2. King CR, McGuire DB, Longman AJ, Carrol-Johnson RM. Peer review, authorship, ethics, and conflict of interest. J Nurs Sch. 1997;29(2):163–168.
3. Smith R. Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals. J R Soc Med. 2006;99(4):178–182.
4. Mulligan A, Hall L, Raphael E. Peer review in a changing world: an international study measuring the attitudes of researchers. J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol. 2013;64(1):132–161.
5. Hojat M, Gonnella JS, Caelleigh AS. Impartial judgment by the “gatekeepers” of science: fallibility and accountability in the peer review process. Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2003;8(1):75–96.
6. Institute of Medicine. Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century. Vol 6. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2001.
7. Allen L. The nursing shortage continues as faculty shortage grows. Nurs Econ. 2008;26(1):35–40.
8. Berlin LE, Sechrist KR. The shortage of doctorally prepared nursing faculty: a dire situation. Nurs Outlook. 2002;50(2):50–56.
9. Advances in Nursing Science Board. Peer reviewer mentoring plan. ANS: Advances in Nursing Science Blog. January 2, 2019.