Interdisciplinary Community Partnership for Health Professional Students: A Service-Learning Approach

Article excerpt

This paper presents a qualitative approach to studying the reflective learning experiences of health professional students after they participate in an interdisciplinary community-based healthcare course. Over a 2-year period, health professional students from various health-related disciplines voluntarily took an interdisciplinary community-based health course offered at an urban, mid-Atlantic, private university. Through didactic and experiential opportunities, students in the course learned the importance of providing health care services to underserved populations at urban community-based sites. Throughout the semester, students kept journals, completed community response forms, and participated in documented class discussions. A research team of health professional faculty applied constant comparative analyses to the journal entries and community site-visit response forms. Four central themes were identified as the students engaged in learning experiences at various community sites: (1) the need for preventive healthcare; (2) the importance of health services and resources; (3) the awareness of student attitude and behavioral changes; and (4) increased awareness of student and client expectations for health care services. Interpretations of these findings and recommendations for future research are presented. J Allied Health 2005; 34:31-35.

CURRENT TRENDS of Healthcare service delivery support the shift to clinical rotations in community-based healthcare.1 Rotations in community settings promote opportunities for increased student awareness of the health needs of underserved populations and foster student interest for service delivery in urban community sites after graduation.2 These settings may include community mental health centers, free medical clinics, hospice, day treatment centers, boarder baby homes, and homeless shelters.1 Targeted populations typically served at these settings encompass historically disenfranchised individuals, as distinguished by such factors as poverty, race/ethnicity, and education. These underserved populations also includes demographically diverse persons in urban and rural areas.3

Previous literature revealed that neither students nor clinicians were seeking clinical rotations or employment in these community-based settings.4,5 Universities are positioned to play a major role, not only in educating health care professionals, but also in establishing partnerships between academic programs and community-based health care centers. Health professional educational programs infuse experiential opportunities during clinical rotations and internships. However, the majority of these traditional experiences do not incorporate a reflective learning process toward community-based health care service delivery. As healthcare professionals provide services in a variety of settings, it becomes necessary to reflect critically on the interrelationships and interactions that best meet the needs of the clients. Health professional educators and fieldwork coordinators must adapt to the changing practices and prepare students to be on the cutting edge. Incorporating a service-learning approach into the classroom serves as a bridge to transition health professional students to become more committed to the population being served, because they are able to reflect on the appropriateness and integrate didactic learning through hands-on experiences.6

Service-learning promotes educational experiences in which students participate in organized service activities that meet identified community needs.7 Through service-learning, educators can infuse experiential learning and reflective thinking in the classroom and community settings.8-10 According to Jacoby and associates," service-learning combines students' achieving learning goals with meeting community needs. This approach ultimately results in educational growth and empowerment for all those involved.11 Anderson et al. proposed three criteria for determining the worth of service experiences: (1) individual student growth intellectually and morally; (2) the larger community henefiting from learning; and (3) experiences resulting in strengthening initiative, desires, and purposes in academia and the community. …