The Growth of Learning Communities in Undergraduate Medical Education

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Abstract

Purpose

To determine the presence and characteristics of learning communities (LCs) in undergraduate medical education.

Method

The authors updated an earlier Web-based survey to assess LCs in medical education. Using a cross-sectional study design, they sent the survey to an LC leader or dean at each Association of American Medical Colleges member medical school (n = 151) between October 2011 and March 2012. The first survey item asked respondents to indicate if their institution had LCs. Those with LCs were asked to provide details regarding the structure, governance, funding, space, curricular components, extracurricular activities, and areas addressed as part of the LCs. Those without LCs were asked only if they were considering developing them. The full survey instrument contained 35 items including yes/no, multiple-choice, and open-ended questions. The authors analyzed data using descriptive statistics and examined open-ended responses for recurrent themes.

Results

The response rate was 83.4% (126/151). Sixty-six schools (52.4%) had LCs. Of the 60 remaining schools without LCs, 29 (48.3%) indicated that they were considering creating them. Of the 52 schools that provided the year their LCs were established, 27 (51.9%) indicated they began in 2007 or later. LC characteristics varied widely.

Conclusions

The number of medical schools with LCs is increasing rapidly. LCs provide an opportunity to transform medical education through longitudinal relationships and mentoring. Further study is needed to document outcomes and best practices for LCs in medical education.

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