A Foundation for Vital Academic and Social Support in Clerkships: Learning Through Peer Continuity
Most medical students on clerkships currently experience lack of continuity of patient care, disjointed learning, and frequent changes in supervisors. Clerkship programs with continuity of care, curriculum, and supervisors appear to benefit student learning and patient-centeredness. A fourth form of continuity is proposed: continuity of peers, in which a stable cohort of students frequently meets to process their experiences on clerkships. This structure builds on benefits previously seen in peer-assisted learning, including enhanced knowledge, technical skills, and collegial peer relationships. Additional advantages of peer continuity in clerkships include facilitated integration into the workplace, social support, and enhanced clinical and professional learning. Practical components required for a successful peer continuity structure include intentional formation of peer cohorts; regular meetings that cover didactic or clinical skills learning; frequent opportunities for reflection on patient care, professional development, and well-being; and skilled facilitators without evaluative roles. Theoretical support for peer continuity comes from social cognitive theory, communities of clinical practice, and social comparison theory. Therefore, in conjunction with empirical programs that have shown benefits of developing these structures, peer continuity should become a formalized educational structure in clerkships.