Medical Students Support Each Other's Education

January 23, 2023 by Janet Essman Franz

Ensuring medical students' academic success and wellbeing relies on having access to numerous resources. At the Larner College of Medicine, those assets include the students themselves, who create and host peer-based learning opportunities for their junior colleagues. The interactive and collaborative nature of peer-based learning engages learners, facilitates understanding of complex topics, and builds confidence for both the tutor and the tutee.

Last fall, Class of 2025 student Richard Vuong launched “Supplemental Processing,” a bi-weekly content review and tutoring session for first-year medical students. Vuong worked with Tim Moynihan, Ph.D., director of academic achievement, to set up the pilot program, which is based on an active learning framework that Vuong participated in as an undergraduate student at the University of Tenessee-Knoxville, when he was planning on applying to medical school.

“It was great for me as I reviewed chemistry for the MCAT. At Larner, I thought it would be a great idea to re-create it specifically for medical students as I study for STEP 1 [of the United States Medical Licensing Examination],” Vuong said. “It gives the students a chance to return and dive back into the areas they perhaps didn’t quite grasp or fully understand."


Richard Vuong '25 leads a tutoring session for first-year medical students
Richard Vuong '25 (center) hosting a content review session for first-year medical students in the Medical Education Center Reardon Classroom.

Students attending peer-led learning sessions benefit from their colleagues' experience, and receive study tips and mnemonics that helped the senior medical students succeed during their earlier years of medical school.

“It’s very helpful to learn from someone who has been who’s been here, done the same curriculum and learned the same material recently,” said Nicole Salib ’26, who attends Vuong's bi-weekly sessions.

This month’s sessions covered topics learned during the Attacks and Defenses portion of the curriculum, including bacteriology, anemia and T-cells.

“It’s great to have the ability to discuss these topics with Rich [Vuong] and other classmates. As an M2 (second-year medical student), his perspective is very valuable,” said first-year student Susanna Schuler.

Another program launched last fall by medical students Sam Afshari ‘24, Megan Zhou ’25, and Will Brown ’23 featured an interactive session for Class of 2026 medical students to practice cross-sectional imaging, a relatively new technology that uses advanced imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance (MR) to display a body in cross-section, providing a look “inside” the chest, abdomen, or pelvis.  The students divided into groups to practice labeling structures according to a given anatomical tag list, while student facilitators circulated to answer questions and help with labeling. “The process of labeling structures will be far more useful than remembering what a structure looks like on a still image, both for your next practical and during clinical clerkships,” the student tutors advised.

The peer-to-peer relationship has value outside of academics, said Director of Student Well-Being, Lee Rosen, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry.

“Students who take care of each other, who support each other to be successful, those are the kind of physicians that you want to have out in the world,” Rosen said. “What we do as professionals is learn to be people who take care of each other so that we can take care of the people, and that has to begin in medical school," Rosen said.

Medical students participating labeling anatomy

Class of 2026 medical students practiced labeling anatomy using cross-sectional imaging, with assistance from student facilitators.

A longitudinal peer mentoring program organized around a concept called “Sibs” supports students in each year of medical school. Big Sibs pairs each new first-year student with a second-year student who serves as a friend, mentor, information source and support system for the transition to medical school. Step Sibs are third- and fourth-year medical students assigned to second-year students preparing for the Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which is one of the most stressful parts of med school. Specialty Sibs pairs fourth-year students with third-year students who are pursuing the same specialty in which they are invested, to provide guidance and support around the residency application process.

In addition to student-led opportunities, the Office of Medical Education provides peer tutoring, group study sessions and discussion groups. Students can also serve as teaching assistants, which may involve leading review sessions, facilitating small group discussions, laboratory teaching, and preparing assessments.

Students participating in peer-tutoring
First-year medical students gathered for a peer-led tutoring session.