Stonybrook School of Medicine Learning Communities Program


Twenty five years ago, the then science writer for the New York Times, Daniel Goleman, published a landmark book called Emotional Intelligence. This work, based on cutting edge research by the then Professor and now President of Yale University, Peter Salovey, brought to light what many people long knew; IQ was important to success, but perhaps even more important is the area of understanding and being able to manage one’s emotions. Dr. Salovey coined the term Emotional intelligence, or EI for short, though others in the educational world have transposed the term to Emotional Literacy. Since the original publication, researchers around the world have utilized this concept, studied it with various age groups and populations, and applied it to a variety of settings. Most recently, this has been applied to the world of Undergraduate Medical Education.

The thought is to understand and develop these concepts more concretely, coaching faculty to become trainers in this emerging field, and implement with each incoming class. The Learning Community Program is modeled after similar Learning Communities (LCs) developed nationwide, as part of a broad, medical school initiative. In April 2013 a Faculty Development Workshop took place with two visiting faculty from the Learning Communities Institute, Dave Hatem, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Lars Osterberg, MD, MPH, Associate Professor (Teaching) of  Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. An all day series of workshops with faculty mentors and clerkship directors sharing expertise so that faculty mentors felt skilled and comfortable to begin their LCs took place.

Dr. Steven Shelov, Professor of Pediatrics at Stonybrook School of Medicine and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Medical education at the Winthrop University Hospital Regional Campus for Stonybrook Medicine, initiated the Learning Community program. It has met with a very positive result from faculty and students alike.

Program Goals

  • More satisfied students, faculty and administrators.
    An annual Learning Communities (LC) Survey is administered to assess the student’s overall satisfaction. Results thus far indicate that the students are very satisfied with the learning community experience. In addition, the results of our survey reflect the satisfaction with a number of different measures, all of which contribute to the students’ positive sense of well being.
  • Feeling of “connectedness” to school leading to future connected alumni.
  • New ideas for improvement may emerge.


  • Each community has two faculty facilitators with good emotional intelligence – two clinical and one non-clinical.
  • 6 learning communities, each with 12 students – 6 third year and 6 fourth year. Each LC has two or three student leaders from each class.
  • Wellness activities are built into these Learning Communities, and there are many opportunities for reflective writing and sharing.

The scope of discussions for these LCs range from difficult clinical encounters with faculty or residents, ethically challenging clinical encounters, student awareness of new levels of responsibility, encounters with death and dying, and other numerous challenging clinical encounters. Students find this sharing and learning experience with both their colleagues, and faculty mentors to be an excellent addition to their overall clinical experience. They serve as superb vehicles, through which, many students can begin to feel comfortable with discussion of positive and negative meaningful experiences throughout their rotations.


  • Career counseling
  • Periodic clerkship exit interviews
  • Academic schedule planning/ feedback/advise
  • Community service or common group projects
  • Communication on key issues
  • Dean’s letter input

Discussions  from Learning Community meetings have led to the initiation of a research project that began in July 2014 following, over time, the students’ changes in empathy, socialization, and other measures of Emotional Intelligence.

Lessons Learned

  • May expand to more robust mentoring programs.