Education for Health

: 2016  |  Volume : 29  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 148--151

Implementing a centralized institutional peer tutoring program

Natalie White Gaughf, Penni Smith Foster 
 University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, Mississippi, USA

Correspondence Address:
Penni Smith Foster
UMMC Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, 2500 North State Street, Jackson, Mississippi 39216-4505


Background: Peer tutoring has been found to be beneficial to both students and peer tutors in health sciences education programs. This article describes the implementation of a centralized, institutional peer tutoring program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, an academic health science center in the U.S. The Program: This multispecialty peer tutoring program paired students experiencing academic difficulties with peer tutors who showed prior academic success, professionalism and effective communication skills. The program allowed students and peer tutors to coordinate their own tutoring services. Program Evaluation: Evaluations by both students and peer tutors showed satisfaction with the program. Recommendations: Recommendations for developing and implementing an effective peer tutoring program are presented, including utilization of an online system, consistent program policy with high professionalism expectations, funding, program evaluation and data tracking.

How to cite this article:
Gaughf NW, Foster PS. Implementing a centralized institutional peer tutoring program.Educ Health 2016;29:148-151

How to cite this URL:
Gaughf NW, Foster PS. Implementing a centralized institutional peer tutoring program. Educ Health [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Jul 2 ];29:148-151
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Peer tutoring has been utilized effectively at all levels of education, including graduate, nursing, and medical education. Peer tutoring has been found to be effective in improving graduate students' academic performance and providing students with social support. It has also been found to increase graduate level peer tutors' knowledge and confidence in teaching. [1] Similarly, peer tutoring is effective in improving skills, knowledge, critical thinking and decision-making in nursing students. [2],[3] In the medical school environment, peer tutoring can improve academic performance and has been found to be an acceptable method of providing academic support to students in large classes. [4] It has also been shown to benefit the medical students working as peer tutors by encouraging student leadership, improving teaching skills and giving them a vehicle for assessing and improving their own medical knowledge and skills. [4],[5]

While the benefits of peer tutoring are clear, there is little guidance published on how to structure or implement a peer tutoring service. Additionally, the initial structure and implementation of such programs can impact the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the program. Therefore, the objective of this article is to describe the implementation of a centralized, institutional peer tutoring program at an academic health science center, including to provide a concrete description of a tutoring program, evidence of the program's success as indicated by student and peer tutor satisfaction, and, suggestions for developing new programs. Its goal is to provide guidance to other institutions planning to establish new or improve existing peer tutoring programs.

 The Program

University Tutoring Services (UTS) is an institutional student support service available at no cost to the nearly 2300 students enrolled in the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a public academic health science center in the Southern US. The institution is the only health science center in the state and it exists to enhance the educational, economic, health care, social and cultural foundations of the state, region and nation. The institution's principal mission is to train healthcare professionals at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels for the state. UTS is the centralized peer tutoring system, in which students experiencing academic difficulty are matched with students who have previously and successfully completed the course in an effort to support individual students and ultimately support the mission of the institution.

UTS was implemented and administratively managed by an office in the academic affairs division of the institution. To recruit peer tutors with appropriate characteristics to effectively teach their fellow students, UTS identified administrative liaisons in each school: Dentistry, Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, Health Related Professions, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy. Liaisons were chosen based on their familiarity with the students, so that they and the program directors were aware of the students' interpersonal skills and professionalism. UTS contacted the liaisons prior to each semester and requested recommendations for potential peer tutors based on the following criteria: 1) No concerns about academic performance in any course; 2) grades of A's or B's in the subject area(s) in which they would be tutoring; 3) strong interpersonal skills; and 4) consistent professional behavior.

The UTS liaisons consulted their respective program directors and recommended peer tutors who met eligibility criteria. The recommended peer tutors were contacted via email, the institution's official form of communication with students and students who agreed to participate as peer tutors completed an application, tutor contract and an online video-based tutor training module that addressed UTS policy/procedure, professionalism and principles of adult learning.

To provide services to students that were easily accessible and prompt, UTS developed a webpage that provided service information, allowed students to directly request tutoring services via an electronic request form and notified the UTS staff via email when a form was submitted. UTS staff matched the student requests with appropriate peer tutors based on the following factors: Student and tutor school/program, tutor preference for teaching particular courses, total number of students assigned to each tutor and tutor availability. Students and peer tutors received the match information via email, often as quickly as the same day the student requested the tutor. Each "match email" received by the students and peer tutors included the students' and tutors' email addresses and phone numbers, the course name, a message instructing them to contact one another to begin tutoring and instructions to contact UTS if either party felt there was a need for a reassignment for any reason. The match email also included the student contract for services that listed the guidelines for tutoring, including rules related to safety (e.g., tutoring on campus) and professionalism (e.g., providing notice for canceling a meeting).

Students and peer tutors were allowed autonomy to negotiate and provide services. They met independently at mutually convenient times, and together determined the frequency and duration of tutoring services within the program limits (25 hours of peer tutoring per semester for students, and 19 hours per week for peer tutors). These limits were created to protect the welfare of the program and the peer tutors by ensuring that financial and personnel resources were available for all students who requested a tutor, and so that tutoring services did not interfere with the peer tutors' programs of study.

Tutors were also allowed to autonomously decide when to provide tutoring in individual versus small group format. Tutors provided individual tutoring until they were matched with two or more students, then group tutoring was encouraged. Tutoring groups generally had 2 or 3 students and were therefore more efficient for tutors and required less time from their own academic responsibilities.

Tutors and students together agreed on the content of the sessions based on the needs of the student. On occasion, tutoring assignments were terminated and students were reassigned to different peer tutors, generally for schedule conflicts or when students' and tutors' teaching and learning styles did not match. Notifications of termination and reassignment occurred via email and often occurred the same day the request was submitted.

The total compensation provided to tutors over the course of the 2013-2014 academic year was based upon 1050 total hours of tutoring services rendered. Tutors received payment of US. $26.40 per hour for tutoring, whether individual or group. Each month tutors submitted invoices that listed the names of the students tutored, dates of contact, courses of instruction and number of hours rendered. Students signed the invoices verifying the information was correct.

 Program Evaluation

All students and peer tutors participating in the peer tutoring service were asked to evaluate the program via an online evaluation tool distributed at the end of each semester. Participation was voluntary. On nine items students rated tutors' professionalism, and communication skills, their own improvement in academic performance, and their overall satisfaction with the program. Peer tutors completed a five item questionnaire to rate the professionalism, engagement in learning, and improvement in academic performance of the students they worked with.

Of the approximate 2300 students at the institution in 2013-2014 academic year, 161 students requested tutoring and 74 peer tutors provided tutoring services. Eighty-eight (55%) students and 37 (50%) peer tutors completed at least one evaluation. The professional school affiliation for both students and peer tutor respondents can be found in [Table 1].{Table 1}

Because students often received tutoring from more than one tutor for different courses and peer tutors often provided services to more than one student, 135 total evaluations of students and 117 total evaluations of tutors were completed. The evaluations from both student and peer tutor respondents were overwhelmingly favorable, demonstrating that both groups were satisfied with the tutoring program. Student evaluations generally indicated that students perceived that their academic performance improved in the course for which they were tutored (83% agreed or strongly agreed), and 90% indicated that they were overall satisfied with the tutoring services. Eighty percent of peer tutors also agreed that students'academic performance improved.

 Lessons and Recommendations

The literature indicates that peer tutoring programs have positive academic benefits for students in various educational settings, [1],[3] including medical education. [4],[5] However, the literature lacks practical instruction about developing successful peer tutoring programs. The authors offer lessons and practical recommendations based upon their experiences implementing a centralized, multidisciplinary peer tutoring program at an academic health science center. It is expected that these experiences and recommendations will be helpful to other schools and programs in medicine, allied health sciences and basic sciences.

The authors offer important lessons here from early missteps related to the inappropriate use of tutoring services and the assignment of peer tutors. Initially the UTS set few parameters related to students' use of services. Interestingly, many students requested tutoring services prior to the beginning of the semester, before their first exam and any grades in their courses. These students were prematurely using the tutoring system before demonstrating the need for the services. UTS established a requirement that peer tutors could not be assigned until the after the second week of classes each semester and found that fewer students requested services inappropriately.

Many students exceeded their allowed number of tutoring hours. In an effort to manage the available resources and provide fair, equal services to all students, UTS began monitoring the monthly accrual of individual students' hours and notified both the students and the peer tutors via email when they approached their maximum number of hours for the semester. This approach was found to reduce the number of times students exceeded their allowed hours.

Another issue that arose was related to frequent student requests for specific peer tutors. To avoid great differences in workloads of peer tutors and to avoid matching students based on personal relationships, specific requests for peer tutors were no longer allowed. UTS developed a policy and procedure for matching students with peer tutors based upon their schools/programs, course requested and tutor availability. This policy and procedure was applied consistently, which ensured the services were provided in a fair and professional manner.

The authors offer practical recommendations for the development, implementation and evaluation of a peer tutoring program.

Online system

We recommend that an online system be utilized for providing information, managing peer tutor applications, managing requests for services, and supporting immediate and efficient student-to-tutor assignments. Students should be able to easily access this resource from any computer or mobile device. This online system allows students to begin tutoring quickly to meet their needs with approaching examinations.

Program policy

All participating parties should be educated about the program's policies. Administrators should create policies that (1) identify when tutoring can be utilized (e.g., following a low grade versus student-perceived need prior to examination performance), (2) how tutor matching occurs (e.g., randomly versus by student requests for specific tutors), (3) standards for professionalism (e.g., expectations for cancellations of tutoring sessions), 4) locations for tutoring (e.g., meeting on campus or in designated facilities), (e) limits set for tutoring (e.g., maximum hours per student per semester), and (5) guidelines for terminating tutoring and requesting reassignment. Consistent policies can ensure that the tutoring resource is used appropriately.


We recommend that funding be considered early in the development of a peer tutoring program. The direct and indirect costs of a program, including staff time, website and database support, and compensation for peer tutors' time should be considered. Administration for our program required the equivalent of one full-time employee. In-house support was available for website construction and maintenance as well as database management. If these resources are not available for an institution, the costs of external website and database consultation should be considered. Compensation of tutors' time is based on the number of peer tutoring hours provided. The potential number of hours in relation to institution size and program enrollment should be considered when budgeting for tutor compensation. Limits of the funding source and budget may require careful monitoring to ensure that services remain available to all in need.

Standards and training for tutors

To help assure that peer tutors are effective teachers, peer tutors should meet academic and professional standards identified by the program's administrators. Peer tutors should also receive training about adult learning, teaching effectiveness, and professionalism to reiterate the importance of their role and increase their skills.

Program evaluation

A substantial amount of autonomy is given to students and peer tutors in the coordination and content of the tutoring sessions. This allows flexibility for scheduling, encourages students to take an active role in their own learning, and provides tutors with valuable teaching experiences. To verify that within this autonomy the peer tutoring relationships are effective, ongoing evaluation of the program is important. We recommend that students and peer tutors routinely evaluate one another and the overall program.


Data tracking is also important. This should include monitoring requests for tutoring, tutor availability, hours of service, individual and group format utilization, and payment. These data should be reviewed regularly to guide continuous program improvement.

In summary, the authors offer and recommend a centralized peer tutoring program for students in health sciences education programs including dentistry, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy. Peer tutoring can yield satisfied students and peer tutors, and perceived improvement in students' academic performance. A successful program should utilize an efficient online system, be based on consistent policy and high professional expectations for both students and peer tutors, consider both direct and indirect costs of the program, self-evaluate, and closely track program activities. A peer tutoring program based on these practices can provide valuable support for students and for the institution at large.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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