The Fellowship as a Learning Community
Lauren Lamers, MPH
Menominee Tribal Clinic
Keshena, WI

One of the unique things about the Population Health Service Fellowship is that it is truly intended to be a learning community.  Earlier this year, fellows, faculty, and preceptors had the opportunity to discuss and outline exactly what we wanted our learning community to look like.  Some of the characteristics we thought were important to include as guiding principles for our community included:
·         Recognizing and valuing the different perspectives that all members of the learning community bring to the group 
·         Creating safe spaces to share questions, opinions, ideas, and constructive feedback
·         Supporting each other to take chances, celebrating each other’s strengths, and advocating for each other
·         Engaging with others in the community to enhance our own and others’ learning
·         Being committed to long-term, ongoing learning and self-improvement
The true value of the fellowship learning community, however, is that these principles are not merely words on a page - they play an integral role in our projects, meetings, and interactions with each other.  This was particularly apparent during our annual overnight retreat in Shawano and Menominee Counties earlier this month.  Other than being an exciting opportunity to show off my placement sites, one of my biggest takeaways from the meeting was just how many ways fellows, faculty, staff, and preceptors exemplified the values we set for ourselves as a learning community.    Here are just a few of those examples…
The group touring Keshena Falls, Menominee County/Reservation, WI
Our meeting, like each of our monthly meetings, started with time for fellow updates.  I was (and always am) so impressed at the fantastic work everyone is doing.  It’s truly inspiring to be part of such a passionate, talented, and dedicated group.  Having the opportunity to be inspired by each other has, for me, been one of the best parts of the fellowship learning community.
Throughout the meeting, everyone was actively engaged.  Fellows and faculty alike brought enthusiasm to learning more about our meeting topics (American Indian health and farm health).  There was great discussion and thoughtful questions for our speakers, and while the speakers themselves brought fantastic perspectives to our meeting, I think we learned just as much by engaging with each other around the topics we were discussing.
Another staple of our monthly meetings is the CALs presentation, when one fellow presents on a project they’ve done and how it helped develop their core areas of learning.  In this case, I was the one presenting.  I so appreciated the interest that everyone showed, the great questions that opened up deeper discussion and challenged me to think about my project differently, and the supportive atmosphere that helped me feel comfortable talking about not only what I thought went well, but also things I could have done better.  Having this safe space within our learning community to talk about our fellowship experiences has been so beneficial for growing both personally and professionally.
A little fellowship team building time.
Finally, one of the strongest aspects of the fellowship learning community is the varied expertise and insights that everyone brings to the table.  There were a few stellar examples of this at our retreat.  One was when second-year fellows Mallory Edgar and Crysta Jarczynski facilitated a skill building session about community readiness assessments – a topic on which they’ve developed quite bit of expertise through their fellowship projects.  They did a fantastic job not only presenting, but also developing interactive ways for us to see how readiness assessments could be useful in our own work.  Another example that really resonated with me was the insight, wisdom, and experience that my preceptor Faye Dodge, brought to our discussions around American Indian health.  For me, this exemplified the invaluable contributions that all of us – fellows, faculty, staff, and preceptors - make toward building the fellowship community.
 All of these are just a few examples of what makes our fellowship a true learning community.  What I think makes it truly special, though, is that this commitment to sharing our learning and to supporting and challenging each other to grow isn’t confined to our monthly meetings – it’s a culture we’ve built.  Being part of this community has been one of the best parts of my fellowship, and it’s an experience for which I am profoundly grateful.