What is a journal club


Earliest reference of journal club in medical field is often attributed to Sir William Osler, although earlier journal clubs might have been already taking place. First journal club established by Osler was during his stay at McGill University in Montreal in 1875. Him and his colleagues subscribed to French and German periodicals that he could not afford himself. Osler applied the same strategy when he went to the University of Pennsylvania in 1884 and Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1889.

After more than 140 years since the earliest mention of journal club, this form of medical education event has become widespread in postgraduate medical education and has evolved in purpose, format, organisation and teaching methods.

Nowadays, journal clubs are used as a method to teach critical appraisal skills, biostatistics and research design. This is facilitated by curriculum requirements in many training programs, including Foundation and Speciality training programmes in the UK.


Journal club can serve many purposes, depending on the format and depicted goals of the individual club. Most commonly cited goals and advantages are:

  • Improve critical appraisal skills
  • Keep abreast of current literature
  • Translate research into clinical practice
  • Work on common project of trainees and faculty
  • Promote social contact
  • Provide continuing medical education
  • Improve knowledge of biostatistics and research design

Failure & Success

Although established in many programs, journal clubs face a number of challenges on their way to success. Most commonly encountered failures of journal clubs are:

  • Low attendance of participants
  • Short longevity of the club
  • Low satisfaction with educational experience
  • Low educational impact

On the other hand, most successful journal clubs have been associated with many common features:

  • Provision of food
  • Presentation of only original research articles
  • Journal clubs organised for smaller training programs
  • Mandatory attendance
  • Independence from faculty
  • Having designated leader

Format & Methods

Traditional journal clubs meet periodically to discuss research topic or article relevant to their field of interest. Often they are organised by faculty and held on faculty’s grounds. Chosen paper is presented by trainee in systematic manner, discussing study’s design, objectives, methods and conclusion. Checklists or reading guides can be used to improve consistency and speed of the review. Discussion is facilitated by faculty leader and focused on validity or flaws of the study.

With the advent of the internet, forums and social media some journal clubs have shifted from traditional format to an online discussion. They are now falling under the umbrella term Free Online Medical Education (FOAM).