University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine


Our program started in 2005 as an optional program led by volunteer faculty mentors and student LC reps. In 2015, the program underwent a major overhaul that included the hiring of 11 faculty mentors with protected time to devote to their learning communities, and the introduction of a 4-year learning community course into the curriculum.

Program Goals

Our program mission is to foster longitudinal relationships in a safe and inclusive environment to promote personal wellness and professional development. Our goal is to develop healthy people who will be effective physician leaders.


  • 11 Learning Communities (LC)
  • Students stay in their LC for the entire four years, even those students who move to a regional campus for their clinical years.
  • One faculty mentor for each LC with protected time. Most LCs also have 1 volunteer mentor who participates in activities and meeting with students as their schedule allows.
  • Within each LC there are 8 Student Reps, elected by their peers to oversee the longitudinal peer mentoring program; help the faculty mentor identify students in the LC who are struggling; and plan monthly socials.
  • Students are required to attend LC sessions as part of a pass/fail course. Topics for meetings include professional identity formation; medical ethics; and personal wellness.


Caroline Harada, MD: Assistant Dean for Community-Engaged Scholarship;
Director of the Learning Communities Program
Jason Noah, Med: Program Director for Student Success Programs

Our program is housed in the Office of Medical Student Services (MSS), which is our student affairs office, and jointly reports to the Associate Dean for MSS and the Associate Dean for UME.

Activities Showcase

Students are asked to read an article or watch a short video beforehand, and then during the session students discuss case scenarios around the selected topic. Topics include:

  • Personal wellness (including burnout, financial health)
  • Professional development
    • Professional identity
    • Culture and diversity
    • Communication skills
    • Interprofessional teamwork
    • Medical ethics (including patient autonomy, medical futility, handling medical error)
  • Careers in medicine


We are in year two of a multi-year, longitudinal study measuring the effects of learning communities on both individual students’ well-being, and the health of our school’s learning environment generally. Multiple students are participating in this research, which has generated several abstracts and one oral presentation to date.

Lessons Learned

Our program was unable to grow or attain widespread buy-in from students and faculty until we were able to:

  • Pay faculty to serve as mentors
  • Make learning communities a mandatory course

We continue to see the tremendous value in having student LC Reps, who play an essential role in helping us understand the needs of our students and in communicating important information back to our students.  Our struggle is to make sure the students play a significant relational and teaching role, and don’t feel like they are only social planners for the group.

Our LCs are large (60 to 80 students). This forces us to separate students by class more often than we would like and makes longitudinal mentoring challenging. Having more full-time faculty mentors would allow for smaller groups and more opportunities for deeper relationships within the LCs.