Academic Societies at Kansas University School of Medicine


In 1999, the School of Medicine in partnership with the KU Medical Alumni Society established Academic Societies to foster a collegial learning environment through student-student, student-faculty, and faculty-faculty interactions. Like other learning communities, the societies evolved from an initial focus on learning, leadership development, and community service to a substantial role in fostering a safe learning environment in core educational programs that promote scholarship, professional development, and collegial relationships. Emphasis is on the promotion of professional behaviors, compassionate, patient-centered care, health practitioner well-being, and lifelong learning. Each society’s namesake memorializes a former campus leader dedicated to students and medicine. The eight societies are: Mahlon H. Delp, MD,  Thor Jager, MD,  Barbara P. Lukert, MD,  Ralph H. Major, MD,  Franklin D. Murphy, MD,  Thomas G. Orr, MD,  Harry R. Wahl, MD, and  W. Clarke Wescoe, MD.

In 2013, the Academic Societies partnered with the University of Kansas Medical Alumni Board, resulting in today’s name, the Medical Alumni Academic Societies (MAAS).

Program Goals

  • Enhance student-faculty interaction
  • Enhance student-student interaction, particularly across classes
  • Provide a structure for student advising
  • Promote a sense of community for students and faculty
  • Encourage the development of professional attitudes and behaviors among student


There are eight societies between the Kansas City, Salina and Wichita Campuses. Cates, Delp, Major, Murphy, Orr and Wescoe are housed on the Kansas City campus, and Jager and Lukert are housed on the Wichita and Salina campuses respectively. Each society’s namesake honors a former school leader and/or alumnus. Every matriculating class is dividing into learning communities of 7-8 students. Four sets of learning communities form a society. The Salina campus is an exception in that there is just one learning community per class. Every society has a faculty director and four to eight faculty assistant directors. The Salina campus has only two assistant directors due to class size. Faculty directors hold the joint title of Assistant Dean for Student Affairs. Individual learning communities have two assistant directors. One assistant director serves as a PBL facilitator, and the other serves as an academic coach. All assistant directors serve as both PBL facilitators and coaches.  To avoid conflict of interest, a PBL facilitator for one society learning community, serves as an academic coach for a separate learning community within the same society. The Societies program has dual citizenship between the offices of medical education and student affairs.

Learning Activities

PBL Facilitation
Society assistant directors facilitate problem-based learning for their assigned learning community students. The activity provides an interactive, team based educational environment for an enhanced learning experience that goes beyond the traditional large classroom model. Each session has focused content and learning objectives. The role of facilitator is to guide the discussion, not provide significant information.

Each learning community has an assigned assistant director serving in the academic coach role. Coaching is conducted 1x-2x per course block for 15-30 minute sessions. The academic coach meets with each of their assigned students individually. The objectives of the meeting are to monitor and review academic performance, examination performance, and narrative feedback. Progress toward mastery of competencies is provided using positive and constructive feedback. Coaches have access to the student's academic dashboard and evaluative assessment data and comments. Based on individual student needs, coaches will make appropriate referrals and assist the student in accessing resources for educational and personal support and development, such as tutoring, mental health, career advising, etc. Society directors serve as academic coaches in the clinical years of the curriculum on the Salina and Kansas City campus. School administrators and faculty alums conduct coaching in the clinical years on the Wichita campus.

Student Wellness

The societies promote student wellness and fostering a safe learning environment. The program aims to achieve these goals with extra-curricular society activities, required wellness workshops, and coaching. Student leaders from each society plan monthly lunch meetings with a variety of programming. Topics include yoga classes and wellness presentations, humanities topics, cultural awareness discussions, and faculty and student panels. Additionally, the student leaders plan off-campus programming. The required workshops typically occur once per academic year. Assistant directors and directors facilitate some of these workshops to encourage reflective discussion in a safe learning environment. Through academic coaching, assistant directors serve as extensions of student affairs. Students are referred to counseling and educational support services and other on-campus resources if needed. The societies meet once per academic block for coaching and PBL case discussions. Through information gathered at these meetings, the offices of medical education and student affairs keep a pulse on student concerns and issues within the learning environment.

Activities Showcase

Student Recognition Ceremony
Annual event sponsored by the Societies program for students to recognize students in areas of student leadership, peer role-modeling, exemplar student organization, service to school, and service to community. Nominations and award selection is determined by the Society student leaders and faculty Directors.

Society Field Day & Society Cup Competition
Annual event and competitions sponsored by the Societies program to promote team-building, learning community comradery, and student well-being.

White Coat Ceremony
Society Directors cloak their respective learning community students at the ceremony. Student leaders present the Society pin to their respective society peers.


Wilkes M and Zaudke JK. Student Reflections on Empathy: Incorporating Student Voices into Medical Education. 2014 Learning Communities Institute, Nashville, TN, September 26-28, 2014.

Zaudke JK et al. Immunizing our Young: Second Year Medical Student Reflections. AAMC Conference, San Francisco, CA, November 3, 2012.

Early Experience with Academic Societies at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, AAMC Conference Poster Presentation, Washington, D.C., Sonnino R, Calkins J, Greenberger N, Meyer M, Minns G, Rawitch A, Varghese G, Calkins D, Powell D. , November 2000

Lessons Learned

  • Faculty advisors receive contribution hours to be used for Promotions and Tenure.
  • Society Directors send advisors an annual appreciation letter that also asks if they will be continuing their service. These letters can be included in Annual Faculty Evaluations.
  • Society Directors are provided a $5,000 stipend for their service, which secures a leadership base interested in scholarship and service.
  • Our annual advisor feedback survey revealed a desire for a variety of meeting times. We added alternative meeting times like morning breakfast sessions and evening social events to increase faculty participation.
  • In order to better engage third year medical students, social hours were integrated immediately following some of the Issues in Clinical Medicine courses.
  • Requiring students to provide copay for certain society dinners, apparel, and other events has helped to ensure participation and decrease wasteful expenses.
  • Our current funding model has allowed the Academic Societies to host more events and provide further educational opportunities.
  • Strategically partnering with other student groups for certain activities has increased student participation and enhanced the impact we’re able to have on the students.


View this YouTube link to learn more about Academic Societies at KU School of Medicine