Purpose: Developing a sense of community and establishing connectivity are important in enhancing learners’ success and preventing their sense of isolation. The A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (SOMA) has implemented a novel approach to medical education in which, beginning in the second year, students are geographically dispersed to 11 community campuses associated with community health centers around the United States, at both inner-city and rural locations. This study assessed students’ sense of community, academic satisfaction, and level of connectedness in their first through fourth years of medical school at SOMA.
Method: The Rovai Classroom Community Scale and open-ended questions were administered via an online survey instrument to 412 students enrolled at SOMA for the 2011–2012 academic year. Participation was voluntary, and all results were anonymous. Data were analyzed using one-way ANOVA to compare results between classes.
Results: Comparisons revealed an increasing degree of isolation and a decreasing sense of community and academic satisfaction progressing from the first through fourth years of medical school. Students suggested possible solutions that may be applied to medical schools and other graduate schools to improve the level of connectedness for students who are learning at a distance.
Conclusions: Connectivity, sense of community, and academic satisfaction may decrease for students in undergraduate medical education participating in a combination of distance learning and intermittent in-person activities. Interventions have the potential to improve these parameters. Long-term follow-up of students’ satisfaction is suggested.