Background. Many medical schools are establishing learning communities to foster cohesion among students and to strengthen relationships between students and faculty members. Emerging learning communities require nurturing and attention; this represents an opportunity wherein medical students can become involved as leaders. This study sought to understand issues related to active involvement among students who chose to become highly engaged in a newly developed learning community. Methods. Between April and June 2008, 36 students who assumed leadership roles within the Colleges Program were queried electronically with open-ended questions about their engagement. Qualitative analysis of the written responses was independently performed by two investigators; coding was compared for agreement. Content analysis identified major themes. Results. 35 students (97%) completed the questionnaire. Motives that emerged as reasons for getting involved included: endorsing the need for the program; excitement with the start-up; wanting to give back; commitment to institutional excellence; and collaboration with talented peers and faculty. Perceived benefits were grouped under the following domains: connecting with others; mentoring; learning new skills; and recognition. The most frequently identified drawbacks were the time commitment and the opportunity costs. Ideas for drawing medical students into new endeavors included: creating defined roles; offering a breadth of opportunities; empowering students with responsibility; and making them feel valued. Conclusions. Medical students were drawn to and took on leadership roles in a medical school curricular innovation. This example may prove helpful to others hoping to engage students as leaders in learning communities at their schools or those wishing to augment student involvement in other programs.
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