Medical Students’ Perceptions of Emerging Learning Communities at One Medical School

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In 1999, the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine (UICCOM) established a student management model consisting of four student-style learning communities (LCs), each comprising one quarter of the students from each class, with the goal of fostering student connection, excellence, learning, leadership, and service. The authors present results of a prospective evaluation of medical students’ perceptions of emerging LCs and their impact on medical student life at UICCOM.


A two-page questionnaire, administered in 1999 and again in 2003 to all second-through fourth-year and MD/PhD students, assessed connections among students from different years of study, students’ participation in activities, anticipated/perceived benefits of LCs, concerns about LCs, and the impact of LCs on students’ perceptions of the learning environment. Questions were open ended or Likert scaled; statistical analyses were descriptive, parametric, and nonparametric.


Comparison of results between 1999 and 2003 demonstrated increased connections between students and participation in LC activities, positive perceptions of the overall learning environment, increased access to faculty and staff, and increased involvement in leadership and service activities. Student concerns included continued obstacles to involvement in LCs for third- and fourth-year students.


This prospective evaluation demonstrates that LCs can contribute to more positive perceptions of the learning environment and increased interaction between students throughout medical school. LCs seem to increase student leadership development and engagement in the broader community. Further investigation is needed to determine how these potential benefits of LCs can be maximized and made more accessible to all students.

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