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July 11, 2023

New guide to best practices for virtual pharmacy journal clubs

Journal clubs enhance knowledge sharing and advancement in the pharmaceutical industry. Learn how to get better results with a virtual platform.
pharmacy journal club
What is a journal club in pharma? Simply put, a pharma journal club is a group of professionals who meet to discuss the clinical implications of articles in medical journals. These clubs provide opportunities for knowledge-sharing, build important networking relationships, and promote evidence-based practices and critical appraisal skills.
Journal clubs have been around in one form or another for a long time, and the term “journal club” seems to have first been used in the mid-19th century. Now, advanced technology can support journal clubs in meeting more often and efficiently. Asynchronous engagement allows these groups to quickly set up a journal club and invite more diverse members.

The world’s top pharma companies rely on Within3 for successful journal clubs.

Understanding pharma journal clubs

Journal clubs are a popular way for pharma teams and other groups to stay updated on the latest research while gaining valuable professional skills.

What’s the purpose of medical journal clubs?

Journal clubs discuss current research published in medical journal articles. Topics might include the study design, how data analysis was conducted, what conclusions were drawn, and the implications of the research on patient care and outcomes.

These discussions are an accepted form of medical education – “a practical way to improve the content knowledge of health professionals,” according to the Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine.

Journal clubs can also help members of internal pharma teams prepare to support interactions with key opinion leaders and other scientific experts, gain competitive insights, and broaden their general knowledge of a specific disease community.

What is the structure and format of a pharmacy journal club?

How does a journal club work? While there are no strict journal club guidelines, one or two group members typically present a summary of a journal article or scientific paper chosen by the club. Then, the group discusses the article. The discussion might include:

  • Clarifying questions about the article or summary
  • Critique of study methods outlined in the paper
  • Express agreement or disagreement with the results outlined in the article

Journal club meetings can be held in person or, more commonly, via virtual means like web conferencing or asynchronous platforms. Group leaders may act as moderators or facilitators of the discussion, asking follow-up questions or probing for more information when another member raises an interesting point.

Participants and roles

The key participants in a pharma journal club might be clinicians, researchers, or pharmacists. Depending on the journal and the article’s content, participants might belong to a specific discipline or come from different backgrounds. For those wondering how to lead a journal club, remember that while some journal clubs have established leaders who choose articles for discussion, many groups rotate this leadership role so everyone can present or moderate a discussion.

What are the benefits of joining pharma journal clubs?

As mentioned, pharma journal clubs provide ongoing education, introduce new perspectives, and allow professionals to increase their knowledge and develop skills.


Journal clubs allow pharma teams and scientists to stay updated on new data releases. Understanding any profession’s current news and trends is important, but this challenges work-life balance. Journal club participants have a built-in way to stay current and discuss new scientific developments with peers.


One of the most valuable takeaways from a journal club is the opportunity to improve critical appraisal skills. Participants can use this time to improve their ability to evaluate research methodologies, understand statistical analysis, and grasp the impact of study results. For HCPs, this can hone critical skills in making informed care decisions that improve patient outcomes.


Journal clubs are an excellent way to foster collaboration with peers and have access to a ready-made networking group. Meeting peers from diverse backgrounds and other disciplines elevates the quality of the conversation and can also open opportunities for potential research collaborations.

Running a successful pharma journal club

The success of a journal club often comes down to the willingness of participants to invest their time. A committed leader, appropriate technology, and engaged moderators contribute to a journal club’s productivity. However, good discussions begin with the right article and flourish with good discussion techniques.


Journal clubs can set their standards for articles to discuss. They might require that an article be published within the last year or a few months. There might be limitations on the specific discipline or disease community (for example, a cardiology journal club would likely limit articles to this subject matter). Other considerations include:

  • Source. Is the article from a prominent, peer-reviewed journal?
  • Importance. Will the research impact current clinical practice?
  • Interest. Are club participants motivated to discuss the article or the topic more broadly?
  • Length. Is the article a manageable length for a thorough group discussion?


Established journal clubs will have accepted, if unwritten, guidelines for how discussion starts and proceeds. However, it’s a good idea to set some ground rules to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate and feels comfortable contributing their input. Here are some basics of journal club best practices for effective, lively discussions:

  • Choose a good moderator. A good moderator keeps the conversation moving, introduces questions at the right time, changes the subject when necessary, and “reads the room” to ensure all members can contribute. Your club may have one moderator who always performs this function, or you may decide to take turns. Moderation is a good skill to hone and develop, so if your club is focused on education and professional development, try rotating moderators so everyone can have the experience.
  • Vary the discussion. In an asynchronous environment, technology may support varying question types. Using polls, multiple choice questions, or other approaches that allow participants to visualize data can help to reduce fatigue and keep the conversation fresh.
  • Encourage respectful disagreement and critique. Discussions aren’t interesting when everyone agrees or when every comment is neutral. As people apply their own experiences to a topic, there will inevitably be debate or disagreement. This should all unfold respectfully and professionally – another area where a skilled moderator can be a big asset.

Tips for participating in a pharma journal club

As we discussed, most journal clubs aren’t governed by strict rules. However, you can do a few things to get the most from participating in a journal club.

  • Prepare beforehand. If you’re presenting to a journal club, understand any important research preceding the article you’ll discuss. You don’t need to be an expert, but other members may have questions about related material, and being familiar with the subject matter will help your discussion be productive.
  • Prioritize brevity and simplicity. If you’re presenting, give a high-level overview of the article first and follow with any necessary details. Don’t assume that other group members have the same level of expertise – provide a summary up front and details later on.
  • Note your questions. As you prepare to present, note the journal club questions you’d ask if someone else was presenting. This will help guide your presentation and the discussion that follows.
  • Ask specific questions. Prepare some discussion questions about the methods, results, and other details outlined in the article. This will help get the discussion started and keep it going.

Leveraging technology for virtual journal clubs

Traditionally, journal clubs took place in person – the earliest journal club meetings took place in a lounge near St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London – and that practice still endures today. But participants in journal clubs know that they benefit from diverse perspectives and experiences rooted in other regions and cultures.

Fortunately, technology enables a more global exchange for journal clubs. These solutions range from standard business tools to industry-specific platforms with broad applicability. Tools that support journal clubs include:

  • Email
  • Web conference software like Zoom or Webex
  • Online forums with post and reply functionality
  • Insights management platforms

Of these, only insights management platforms are designed to meet the needs of the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma teams use insights management technology to support activities throughout product development, including market research, trial design, patient engagement, advisory boards, and other applications.

Journal clubs are ideally suited to an insights management platform with asynchronous group engagement tools that enable lively and collaborative discussions. Unlike many solutions, an insights management platform enables periodic email digests that remind participants to respond to questions or comments. These notifications ensure that participants in the journal club are in a high-quality discussion that provides the learning experience they seek.

With the right platform, journal club leaders can encourage more meaningful discussions. Participants can also take advantage of different question types, like multiple choice, open-ended, and polls.


Pharma journal clubs are an excellent way to keep up with current research topics, understand the pharmaceutical competitive landscape, hone professional skills, and gain access to career opportunities. And while there are generally accepted standard operating procedures, pharma journal clubs have a lot of flexibility in choosing articles for discussion and keeping those discussions moving.

With the emergence of advanced technologies like insights management platforms, pharmaceutical companies have a more reliable way to host journal club discussions on a repeatable and scalable basis.

Read a client case study for successful virtual journal club examples.


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