Vickers BookcaseSelwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACSMedical school is one of the most significant crossroads in any physician’s life – it’s when many of us truly turn the corner into adulthood and begin to discover who we are as people. It’s also the most challenging experience that many medical students have faced up to that point in their lives. For those reasons and more, the relationships we forge in medical school tend to remain with us throughout our careers.

In 2011, the School of Medicine launched a new initiative aimed at bolstering collaborative learning and fostering interpersonal connections among students and faculty. Learning Communities serve as our students’ emotional, social, and intellectual home during their four years of medical school. These organized, faculty-mentored, mission-driven student groups meet monthly to discuss topics ranging from “The Importance of Professional Community” to “Mindfulness and Resilience” and “Difficult Conversations with Peers.”

Learning Communities include students from each year of medical school, giving first-year students the opportunity to interact with and learn from those in their second, third, and fourth years. Networking with peers and faculty mentors provides students with real-world insight about their classes, clinical rotations, and research opportunities.

According to third-year medical student Kelsey Real, “Learning Communities provide time for small group mentorship with faculty members and allow us to learn about life as medical students outside of the classroom. The small group atmosphere makes a large school feel smaller and more personal.”

Heersink LC webThe Heersink Learning CommunityThe start of the 2015/2016 academic year saw the addition of a new Learning Community to the Birmingham campus. The Heersink Learning Community, made possible by a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Marnix Heersink and family of Dothan, is comprised of 66 students and four faculty mentors.  

The new academic year saw the introduction of another important educational enhancement. In an effort to foster service opportunities for our students, I have named Caroline N. Harada, M.D., a faculty mentor of the Heersink Learning Community and associate professor in the Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology and Palliative Care, as Assistant Dean for Community-Engaged Scholarship. This is a new, joint position in the Department of Medical Education and the Office of Medical Student Services designed to formalize the integration of service learning in the undergraduate medical education curriculum.

Dr. Harada joined the School of Medicine faculty in 2008 from the University of Chicago, where she was a faculty member for two years. She completed her undergraduate work in biology at Brown University in 1996, and, after a year of living in Bolivia teaching an after-school program at an orphanage, began her medical education at Yale School of Medicine, graduating in 2001. She completed an internal medicine residency and two-year geriatrics fellowship at the University of Chicago.

In her new role, Dr. Harada is overseeing the new Office of Service Learning as well as the Learning Communities initiative. I hope you will join me in wishing her every success as she leads our efforts to not only build community among students, but also to prepare our students to one day be leaders in their own communities.


Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS
Senior Vice President for Medicine and Dean
James C. Lee Endowed Chair