How to Start an Online Journal Club

Lessons learned four years after launching the ACR RFS virtual journal club

RFS 11 3

November 2015

It’s Thursday evening and I’m wrapping up my work for the day. Taking a look at my watch, I’m relieved to see I’ll make it to journal club on time. Instead of running out the door, I simply minimize the PACS and launch my web browser.


ACR RFS journal club is merely a hyperlink away. Within seconds, I’m connected to my radiology peers across the country and radiology leaders such as Geraldine B. McGinty, MD, MBA, FACR, and Bibb Allen Jr., MD, FACR, to name a few. Over the course of the next hour I listen as fellow residents summarize this month’s chosen articles and a faculty moderator moderates a collegial debate between the presenters, invited experts, and attendees. Raising a virtual hand through the GoToMeeting software, I chime in via my cell phone.

Twitter also lights up during the journal club. Using the ACR RFS #radres Twitter hashtag, I’m able to receive feedback from my peers and post an article for all following along. At the conclusion of our allotted hour, the debate is just getting started, but journal club’s purpose has been achieved. All those in attendance walk away with a fresh perspective on clinical issues and potential solutions proposed by physicians at institutions outside their own.

The ACR RFS thrives when members not only participate in national programming, such as journal club, but also bring the skills and techniques they’ve learned in the process back home to their local communities. With this aim in mind, we hope that you’re considering starting (or revitalizing) a journal club at your home institution. Here are seven journal club ingredients we’ve used in the nearly four years since the RFS journal club’s inception:

1. Manageable frequency. In the case of ACR RFS journal club, meetings are held bimonthly. This schedule allows time for organizers to choose suitable articles, identify presenters, invite special guests to join in on the call, and promote the journal club via email and Twitter. Admittedly, finding an ideal frequency for your journal club may involve some trial and error.

2. Timely themes. Is there a hot topic for debate affecting radiologists at your institution? Has a new bill been passed into a law? Have insurance companies started covering a new procedure? Has eligibility for screening exams recently changed? The opportunity to learn about a new or controversial issue piques interest and encourages attendance.

3. Strategic PR. Despite our best efforts, we all need reminders to make it to journal club from time to time. ACR RFS e-news emails, resident promoted tweets, and publicity on the ACR RFS website — these are a few of the ways that residents are reminded to tune in to journal club at the right date and time. We’ve also found that it’s critical to include the journal club articles (or links to them) in each communication.

4. Expert guests. The ACR RFS journal club is fortunate to have the support of the ACR’s most trusted and well-respected leaders, many of whom are regular participants. The opportunity to engage and directly converse with individuals who shape our field is a driving force for many residents who carve out time for journal club. On a smaller scale, making sure to include a topical expert, such as faculty members with relevant research, adds validity to a journal club’s proceedings.

5. A passionate moderator. Journal club is most fun and exciting when residents and experts from opposing sides are scrambling to defend their positions. A moderator who searches for the holes in each argument and encourages collegial discourse keeps journal club from growing stale. This friendly provocation may even carry over into the title of your debate. In a recent journal club meeting moderated by Harry Jha, MBBS, entitled “Is Cardiac CT Useless,” discourse was so lively it continued long after the journal club officially concluded.

6. A support network. Though we have an organizational committee, journal club is continually reshaped by its members at large. Initially joining in on journal club as a general attendee, a few journal club tweets and raised digital hands later, I was tapped to present an article at the next session. Many fellow presenters and participants have shared my journal club experience. Don’t be afraid to reach out to enthusiast participants for help. Their input is key to your journal club’s growth and sustainability.

7. Patience and persistence. ACR RFS journal club is nearing its fourth year of regular quarterly meetings. Thanks to a track record of consistently high-quality sessions, residents feel comfortable blocking out an hour of their time, knowing they’ll reap a valuable learning experience in return. Reliably thoughtful and well-organized journal clubs will keep your participants coming back, oftentimes with their colleagues in tow.
Will you be at our next RFS journal club?

By Ashley E. Prosper, MD, radiology resident at University of California

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