How Should We Train Successful Peer Teachers: A Student’s Perspective

By Kevin Chen, M.S.

Teaching and learning certificate programs aim to prepare individuals to become instructors, yet even after completing several pedagogical courses in my previous graduate school career, I still felt woefully unequipped to become an effective teacher. During the second week of my medical intensive care unit (ICU) rotation, I was asked to peer-teach several third year student pharmacists. Although still adjusting to this service, I was happy to undertake this responsibility, as I am passionate about teaching. Despite my interest and fundamental knowledge of teaching, I felt inadequate in my training as a peer teacher.

Peer teaching (students from similar social groups or classes teaching other students) is a beneficial strategy used in other health professions and may provide a unique way of teaching student pharmacists.1 However, employing this method introduces many new challenges, especially ensuring a high quality of education. A recent Pulses post by Dr. Craig Cox addresses the topic of making student pharmacists “preceptor ready,”2 and highlights the importance of preceptor training within the pharmacy curriculum. He suggests using existing faculty and resident training tools for this training. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the current training for student pharmacists as peer teachers focuses on conveying practical skills, such as providing proper formative and summative feedback, but omits certain aspects of teaching, which are equally important.3

From my perspective, an introduction to the following topics would have been most helpful prior to engaging in peer teaching:

1. Balancing Self-Learning and Teaching

2. Providing Level-Appropriate Education (i.e. Layered Learning)

3. Identifying the Role of Student Teacher/Mentor

Balancing Self-Learning and Teaching
A student pharmacist’s first responsibility is to his/her own education, just as a preceptor’s first responsibility is to the patient. The added responsibility of teaching can consume a significant amount of time and can also compromise the learning of both individuals. It was the second week of my most difficult rotation and I was struggling to keep up with my patients’ needs. By having an additional learner, I was tasked with balancing my learning with a third year student pharmacist’s learning. I also was doing this without formal guidance on how to accomplish that task. The provision of specific strategies on how to incorporate another learner would have allowed me to best engage my peers without compromising my own learning. Numerous strategies exist for balancing self-learning and teaching, some of which are listed below.

Providing Level-Appropriate Education
Although it is easy to teach another student pharmacist exactly what you are being taught, this may not meet the needs of the individual learner. For instance, pharmacy residents are expected to practice evidence-based medicine using practice guidelines and primary literature. Fourth year student pharmacists are introduced to this concept on rotations and are taught to critically evaluate the available literature. However, one cannot expect the same of a third-year student pharmacist. Receiving training on appropriate teaching strategies for different leveled learners (i.e., layered learning models) would help student teachers better convey our knowledge to other learners. Layered learning is a recent innovation in pharmacy education employed in the practice setting, however many aspects can also be applied to peer teaching. Examples of similar strategies include how to properly assess a student’s existing knowledge-base and methods to accentuate didactic education in a practice setting.

Identifying the Role of Student Teacher/Mentor
The most difficult aspect of peer-teaching for students is defining the student teacher’s role and responsibilities. The challenges of student teachers differs based upon their specific role (e.g. peer-mentoring, peer-tutoring, near-peer didactic).4 My role could be classified as “near-peer mentoring” based on the criteria proposed by Olaussen and colleagues. As such, my primary challenge was time commitment rather than student engagement. My job was to introduce student pharmacists to the ICU, not to reinforce curricular education. In contrast, “peer tutors” may face different challenges and be tasked with different learning objectives. Regardless, to become effective peer teachers, I believe student pharmacists would greatly benefit from formalized instruction on how to maximize our specifically assigned roles. This could include strategies on how to best engage student pharmacists, develop specific objectives, and enhance existing didactic knowledge.

Peer-assisted learning is a beneficial experience for all involved, but successful implementation within pharmacy education hinges upon proper training and standardization of responsibilities.5 The challenge of adequately preparing student pharmacists to become successful teachers should not simply focus on teaching techniques. The question which must be asked is: what specific training should be provided, and how should that training be delivered, to prepare student pharmacists for peer teaching?

I wish to acknowledge Melanie Laine and Matt McKenzie, my pharmacist preceptor and resident during my medical ICU rotation, who provided the opportunity to mentor these third year student pharmacists.


  1. Secomb J. A systematic review of peer teaching and learning in clinical education. J Clin Nurs. 2008;17(6):703-716.
  2. Cox C. Building the Preceptor Pipeline: One Student at a Time. Pulses: Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning Scholarly Blog. August 29, 2017.
  3. Faure M. Physiotherapy students perceptions of an innovative approach to clinical practice orientation. South African J Physiotherapy. 2002;58(2):3-8.
  4. Olaussen A, Reddy P, Irvine S, Williams, B. Peer-assisted learning: time for nomenclature clarification. Med Educ Online. 2016; 21(1):30974.
  5. Aburahma MH, Mohamed HM. Peer teaching as an educational tool in Pharmacy schools; fruitful or futile. Currents Pharm Teach Learn. 2017; 9(6): 1170-1179.

Kevin Chen is a final year student pharmacist at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include student development and assessment of student learning. In his free time, Kevin enjoys playing sports with friends and exploring new restaurants in Lexington.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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