The idea of a journal club in intellectual disability arises from the need to develop the critical appraisal of literature pertaining to intellectual disability care and practice. Michael McKeon, School of Nursing Studies, Dublin City University


A Journal Club is a way of assisting healthcare professionals, advocacy groups and parents of people with intellectual disabilities to update their knowledge and care practice. In Ireland, it is acknowledged that further work is needed to provide a wider evidence base to underpin care in intellectual disability. In recent years, advocacy groups, parents and carers have all increased their use of research as a tool to strengthen their voice and action.

Intellectual disability nurses, care staff, and parents do not work in isolation, but rather with many others in providing care for people with intellectual disabilities in a wide range of settings. Interprofessional collaboration is seen as essential to good practice and to provide quality services. Nurses, care staff and parents need to read widely and critically in order to provide the best evidence on which to base their practice. Working in a group can help to generate ideas and develop a forum for discussion and mutual learning. The knowledge base of the group can be broadened, particularly when the group consists of a number of different individuals, both professional and non-professionals, who share a common interest in intellectual disability.

There are different types of journal clubs. Groups may review a single article, one issue of a journal or a single topic. Hunt and Topham (2002) suggest several objectives for setting up a multidisciplinary journal club in learning disability:

  • To promote multidisciplinary working, sharing information and knowledge to reduce disparity between education and practice,
  • To maintain and improve professional knowledge and competence which impacts on the quality of care of people with intellectual disability,
  • To learn from each other and share the working-reading load,
  • To enable members to develop analytical, critical, evaluative, reflective and presentation skills,
  • To develop good practice in keeping up to date with new developments.

The first stage in setting up a journal club is to recruit members, preferably from a cross-section of disciplines within service providers, advocacy groups, parents and individuals with an intellectual disability. The idea cannot be imposed as another work ‘chore’; participants must feel motivated and envisage the club as a positive and worthwhile activity.

A structured approach helps to keep participants focused and productive—with regular meeting times of an agreed length. Participants will need some time to prepare in advance for the meetings, and perhaps be encouraged to sharpen their skills in appraising and critiquing literature.

The journal club may include nurses of different grades and specialties, psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, nurse managers, care managers, house parents, lecturers, students, parents, people with intellectual disability, etc. The aim is to promote a multidisciplinary focus and to share information and promote networking between disciplines and those involved in the area of intellectual disability. However, membership should not be too large, as a smaller group is less intimidating when delivering presentations and more conductive to discussions and feedback. A number of mainstream journals in intellectual disability can be identified with articles which include an account of the research process and sufficient detail to invite discussion and critique.

Critiques of the research articles can follow a standard structure; guidelines for critical reading skills such as those from Clarke and Croft (1998) will enable individuals to present a critical appraisal in an informal atmosphere. They suggest the following criteria for critical reading and reporting:

  • Research team
  • Age of research
  • General aim and context
  • Specific objectives of the study
  • Study setting
  • Design
  • Study population
  • Research method and tools
  • Measurement intervals
  • Time frame
  • Results
  • Analysis
  • Confidence
  • Usefulness

The journal group will discuss the member’s critique, the research findings and how they may relate to practice. Following a comprehensive review and appraisal of a topic has been undertaken, recommendations for changes in practice may be made. The journal club can circulate a newsletter, listing appraised articles and references.

The journal club is part of the process of looking at the best available evidence and identifying good quality research that can influence and bring about change in practice and provide a better quality of care for people with intellectual disability.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here