A model of influences on the clinical learning environment: the case for change at one U.S. medical school

Howard B. Fleit, Richard J. Iuli, Janet E. Fischel, Wei Hsin Lu, Latha Chandran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The learning environment within a school of medicine influences medical students' values and their professional development. Despite national requirements to monitor the learning environment, mistreatment of medical students persists.

METHODS: We designed a program called WE SMILE: We can Eradicate Student Mistreatment In the Learning Environment with a vision to enhance trainee and faculty awareness and ultimately eliminate medical student mistreatment. We provide a description of our program and early outcomes.

CONCLUSIONS: Our WE SMILE program was developed to enhance education and awareness of what constitutes mistreatment and to provide multiple pathways for student reporting, with clear responsibilities for review, adjudication and enforcement. The program is demonstrating several signs of early success and is offered as a strategy for other schools to adopt or adapt. We have recognized a delicate balance between preserving student anonymity and informing them of specific actions taken. Providing students and other stakeholders with clear evidence of institutional response and accountability remains a key challenge. Multiple methods of reporting have been advantageous in eliciting information on learning environment infringements. These routes and types of reporting have enhanced our understanding of student perceptions and the specific contexts in which mistreatment occurs, allowing for targeted interventions. A common platform across the healthcare professions to report and review concerns has afforded us opportunities to deal with interprofessional issues in a respectful and trustworthy manner. We offer a model of learning environment influences with leadership and institutional culture at the helm, as a way to frame a comprehensive perspective on this challenging and complex concern.

RESULTS: The program has enhanced student awareness of what constitutes mistreatment and how to report it. Faculty members are also aware of the formal processes and procedures for review of such incidents. Our proposed model of influences on the learning environment and the clinical workforce informs the quality of trainee education and safety of patient care. Institutional leadership and culture play a prominent role in this model. Our integrated institutional response to learning environment concerns is offered as a strategy to improve policy awareness, reporting and management of student mistreatment concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number63
Pages (from-to)63
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 23 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical learning environment
  • Institutional leadership
  • Medical student mistreatment
  • Patient safety
  • Professionalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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