Learning Communities at University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine


Our Learning Communities (LCs) were established in 1999 to enhance the activities, opportunities and relationships students encounter beyond the formal curriculum. Each medical and physician assistant student, along with interested faculty and staff, is assigned to one of four communities named for a prominent figure in University of Iowa medicine.

Dr. William Bean Learning Community: Dr. Bean served as the Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine from 1948 to 1971. He built a great academic enterprise that encouraged excellence in patient care, teaching, and research. He strived to apply both the science and the art of medicine to provide quality care to patients.

Dr. Lois Boulware Learning Community: Dr. Boulware helped make distinctive changes to healthcare at the University of Iowa during her tenure in Iowa City. She helped create and served as assistant director of the University of Iowa Student Health Services. Later in life, Dr. Boulware embarked on mission to change healthcare’s interaction with patients. Many of her innovations still exist today such as the UIHC Volunteer Program and the Day of Surgery Lounge for family members of patients undergoing surgery.

Dr. Rubin H. Flocks Learning Community: After earning his M.D. at Johns Hopkins in 1930, Dr. Rubin Flocks finished his residency training in surgery and urology at the University of Iowa. Flocks rose through the ranks quickly and became urology department chair in 1949. Dr. Flocks was devoted to work and instilled rigorous work habits in his residents. He published extensively on radiation therapy for early prostate cancer and provided service to the profession through numerous leadership roles in professional organizations.

Dr. Jennie McCowen Learning Community: Dr. Jennie McCowen was among the first women to enroll in and graduate from the University of Iowa Medical Department. She received her M.D. in 1876 and was a pioneer for advancing children’s science education and knowledge of women’s health issues. She epitomizes the spirit of community service and serves as an inspiration for medical students to forge relationships with local organizations to help Iowans with their support.

Program Goals

  • Create formal and informal learning activities to promote professional skills acquisition, leadership development, team building, wellness promotion, service learning, and cultural competency building for our students.
  • Foster the development of supportive relationships among students at all levels, upper and lower, of the medical program, and with faculty staff, including mentoring and tutoring.
  • Facilitate students’ interactions with college faculty and staff, as well as with individuals and families supported by local community service agencies.


Each medical and PA student is assigned to one of four LCs for their entire medical school experience. Every community is comprised of equal numbers of M1, M2, M3, M4, and PA students, and is staffed by a Faculty Director, Curriculum/Community Manager, and Support Staff. With the support of community staff, students initiate and provide leadership for activities. Each community has a physical space located in the Medical Education and Research Facility (MERF) at the University of Iowa that includes small group rooms, study and social spaces, computer stations, a kitchen area, and staff offices.


All Communities

  • Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Curriculum - Christopher S. Cooper, MD
  • Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Curriculum - David Asprey, PhD, PA-C
  • Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Curriculum - Nancy Rosenthal, MD
  • Associate Director for Curriculum - Hugh Hansen, MS
  • Learning Community Coordinator - Megan McDowell, MA

Dr. William Bean Learning Community

  • Community Director - Peter Densen, MD
  • Community Manager - Mary Spreen, MBA
  • Support Staff - Kathy Foss
  • Student Co-Mayors - Brandon Lyle and Ian Mitchell

Dr. Lois Boulware Learning Community

  • Community Director - Katie Iverson, PA-C
  • Community Manager - Jeff Emrich, MS
  • Support Staff - Kris Dawkins
  • Student Co-Mayors - Richie Amendola and Andrew Hornick

Dr. Rubin H. Flocks Learning Community

  • Community Director - David Swanson, MD
  • Community Manager - Ellen Franklin, MA, MBA
  • Support Staff - Barb Brown
  • Student Co-Mayors - Joe Noack and Charlie Paul

Dr. Jennie McCowen Learning Community

  • Community Director - Teri Thomsen, MD
  • Community Manager - Joanne Walters, MS
  • Support Staff - Sharon Peck
  • Student Co-Mayors - Amanda Deutsch and Brian Guetschow


In 2011, we instituted Medical Student Grand Rounds. Each LC is responsible for one session per year. The cases are developed by the faculty director and students from all four years are involved in presenting the cases, developing the differential diagnosis, appropriate testing and determining a diagnosis and treatment. This innovative program encourages M3 and M4 participation in a community led activity which is a challenge given their busy clinical schedules. The Grand Rounds have been extremely popular with upwards of 100 students attending the sessions.

Another recent initiative has been to partner with the LCs at our pharmacy school. Both educational and social activities have been developed which foster increased understanding of the roles of each of these professionals in the health care team.

Many of the activities that our communities participate benefit local charitable organizations. The activities are wide ranging from 5K runs, trivia contests, bench press contests and an indoor triathlon. The competitions are often lively and the proceeds are much appreciated in the local Iowa City area.


Ferguson, K. J., Wolter, E. M., Yarbrough, D. B., Carline, J. D., and Krupat, E. (2009). Defining and describing medical learning communities: Results of a national survey. Academic Medicine, 85 (11), 1549-1556.

Gordon, J., Wickham, G., and Axelson, R. (2010, November). Reflective practice and faculty-student mentorship via a third generation electronic learning portfolio in the learning community environment. Presented at Learning Communities Institute Meeting, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

Lessons Learned

  • Students believe that community service is an important part of their professional role and take advantage of the service opportunities LCs provide.
  • LCs foster interactions among students of all years and promote cooperative relations.
  • The LCs assist with students’ transition to medical school.
  • LCs are good places for studying.
  • Students acknowledge that faculty and peer mentoring are available; they utilize peer mentoring considerably more faculty mentoring.
  • During the clinical years, students are less able to engage in LC activities therefore LC influence is greatest during preclinical years.