Many medical students believe leadership is critical to their success, but few are satisfied with the existing curriculum and opportunities to develop their leadership skills. At Quinnipiac’s Netter School of Medicine, faculty and medical students developed a pre-clerkship, one semester, 16 session relationship-centered leadership elective grounded in a conceptual framework of emotional intelligence. The program aims to empower students to become their best selves, build relationships, lead teams, and impact systems. From the start, we used Design Thinking (DT) principles to engage students and faculty in creating the elective. Since 2019, 66 students have completed the elective. While this elective has been successful, it lacked a recurring longitudinal component to facilitate continued development and ongoing learning around leadership. We decided to engage faculty and students to use DT to create a prototypic Community of Practice (CoP) focused on leadership beginning with course students. We envision expanding the CoP to include students and faculty beyond those directly involved with the elective to support interprofessional learning and meaningful engagement in leadership development longitudinally across the health professions education and career continuum.

What is a Community of Practice (CoP)?

A Community of Practice (COP) is a group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do better, as they interact regularly over time. They share information and experiences, use joint activities and discussions, and build trusting relationships that enable them to help each other as they learn about, with, and from each other. As practitioners, more experienced members help less experienced members by sharing  knowledge and resources, such as experiences, tools, stories, and ways of addressing common challenges. As a CoP, members’ engagement must be meaningful and contribute to identity formation and legitimate participation.

What is Design Thinking (DT)? 

Design Thinking (DT) is a human-centered framework for problem-solving, starting with understanding and empathizing with the user's needs, then engaging designers and users collaboratively to create innovative solutions. DT progresses through three distinct phases: Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. In this blog post, we describe DT strategies used to create our CoP for leadership in healthcare and share insights and lessons learned. 

What happens during each DT phase?

We used the following guiding questions in each DT phase to build our CoP for leadership in healthcare.  Similar questions could be used by anyone interested in creating a CoP. 

Inspiration phase: The “why” and “who” of a CoP

Diverging questions (exploration, analysis, interpretation, empathy):

  • Who are the interested parties in building this CoP?
  • What are the needs of end-users in the desired CoP (students, course graduates, faculty)?
  • What are the jobs-to-be-done by the CoP for end-users?

Converging question (focus on user needs, define the purpose and people of our CoP):

  • Who does the CoP bring together and why?
  • Our CoP brings together… [people from all health professions at Quinnipiac University] so we can… [build meaningful relationships, develop our leadership skills, and impact health systems].

Ideation phase: The “what” and “how” of a CoP

Diverging questions: 

  • What activities can we do around our shared topic of interest?
  • How will activities bring together people and build relationships?
  • Who can moderate these activities?
  • What are the physical and virtual places that this CoP can use to connect?

Converging question:

  • What are the recurring activities around the topic of interest that will bring together people and build relationships?

Implementation phase: The if-then

Diverging questions: 

  • Why prototype, and how will we judge prototypes? 
  • What outputs would define a minimum viable CoP that is rough, ready, and right?

Converging question:

  • How might we best create and launch our prototypic CoP?

How was Design Thinking applied to building a CoP prototype at Quinnipiac?

Our CoP was founded by students in our leadership course, who worked to meet the leadership development needs of healthcare professionals at Quinnipiac University by collecting information from interviews with various leaders such as those involved with student government, faculty leaders, and graduates of the leadership course.

Currently, our CoP consists of 57 students, 18 faculty, two residents, and one staff member from each of the health professions, including medicine, physician assistant, occupational therapy, social work and physical therapy. All CoP members are invited to attend gatherings on the first and last day of the course, sponsored by a Taste of Lifestyle Medicine grant from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Periodic emails keep the community connected virtually and share member contact information and course updates. Future iterations include building a virtual platform for connection, increasing the number of planned events, and incorporating more interprofessional aspects.

What are the benefits and challenges of our CoP?

Our CoP builds meaningful relationships among enrolled and graduated students and faculty, facilitates professional identity formation, and expands member understanding of health systems. Some challenges faced by the implementation of this CoP include the considerable amount of time and energy required to maintain it. Enlisting committed, effective moderators requires persistent effort and relationship development. Additionally, it is difficult to find times, locations and virtual platforms that effectively engage a diverse membership.

In creating this CoP, we learned that each member brings unique attributes to the community and has different goals for the community. However, common overlapping interests included confidence building, increasing interprofessional relationships, managing difficult conversations and conflict, mentoring, networking, self-reflection, and participating in leadership simulations. We also learned that facilitating time together aids in the formation of the community’s values and personal leader identity. DT provided a concrete framework for building a CoP, a concept that would otherwise seem abstract and usually be learned as part of the “hidden curriculum.”


Leadership in healthcare is critical. The path to developing our leadership skills and becoming our best selves is a lifelong journey. At Quinnipiac University, the pre-clerkship elective and CoP has facilitated students’ identity formation as leaders and provided practice for leading self and others in becoming one’s best self. Looking back, it is no coincidence that the real-life application of DT and CoP are two of the greatest takeaways from participating in Harvard Macy Institute programs. The transformational #HMIcommunity is where the magic happens: meaningful relationships are formed, members contribute and benefit, and everyone matters.

Did you know that the Harvard Macy Institute Community Blog has had more than 365 posts? Previous blog posts have explored topics including using step back feedback to leverage diversity and build interdisciplinary community, integrating community-engaged practices into curricula, and how innovation in education can bring medicine and the system together.

Author Bios

Rahul Anand, MD, MBA, MSCI (Educators, ’20; Leaders, ’22) is a medical educator and infectious diseases specialist. He is currently Associate Professor of Medical Sciences and Director of the Leadership for Medical Students Course at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University. Rahul’s areas of professional interest include leadership development, heath systems science, and infectious diseases. Rahul can be followed on Twitter or LinkedIn or contacted via email.

Amber Vargas, BA is a third-year medical student at Frank H. Netter, MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University. Amber’s areas of professional interest include leadership development, mentoring, inclusivity and belonging. Amber can be followed on Twitter or LinkedIn or contacted via email.

Colin Uyeki, BA is a third-year medical student at the Frank. H. Netter, MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University. Colin’s areas of interest include high-value care initiatives, leadership development, and biomedical innovation. Colin can be followed on Twitter or LinkedIn or contacted via email.

Sheila W. Chauvin, PhD, MEd is Professor Emerita, Department of Internal Medicine at Louisiana State University – New Orleans. Sheila’s areas of interest include leadership development and effectiveness, faculty, professional and organizational development, leading effective change processes, and program development, evaluation, and continuous improvement. Sheila can be followed on LinkedIn or contacted via email.



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