Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Service or Disservice? Ensuring Pharmacy Students Provide Authentic Service-Learning

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Service or Disservice? Ensuring Pharmacy Students Provide Authentic Service-Learning

Article excerpt

A pharmacy faculty member has just finished precepting her (insert number here) student-led blood pressure screening of the year at a supermarket in an affluent residential neighborhood, and she begins to reflect on the event. Ten students attended and over 40 patients participated. At first glance, she is excited about the number of patients served, but then she begins to view things with a more introspective lens. Three students forgot their stethoscopes and/or blood pressure cuffs. When quizzed, four students could not recall normal versus abnormal blood pressure values as based on current consensus guidelines. All the patients seen for screening had insurance but stopped by the booth because they wanted to provide students a "chance to practice." Most of the patients' blood pressure values were normal, but the students did come to the faculty member with one blood pressure "scare." However, when she spoke to the patient, she learned that he had just smoked a cigarette. He also had not taken his beta-blocker for the past two days and he had come to the supermarket to pick up the refill from the pharmacy.

So, what had really occurred? Yes, the students had served their community, but was it a population that actually needed the service? Had significant learning occurred? What did the students and patients truly gain from the experience? Although this is an exaggerated scenario, many preceptors have experienced some level of these concerns, such as unsatisfactory clinical and organizational preparation for a student-led service activity. This can lead to a disservice to both the patients (subpar and lack of targeted care) and students (poor educational and professional experience). Therefore, it is important to understand what authentic service-learning is and how to properly implement it.

The 2001 American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Professional Affairs Committee (PAC) Report makes a clear distinction between community service (volunteerism) and actual service-learning. The report defines service-learning as "a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development." (1) Service-learning involves "experiences designed to be reciprocal exchanges of knowledge and resources accomplished through service and reflection, and it must be guided by learning outcomes that promote academic and civic engagement as well as focus on holistic learner development and community well-being." (2) In summary, authentic service-learning should include: structured experiences tied to predefined learning outcomes; student engagement where each individual is actively involved and adequately prepared; experiences that provide mutual benefit to community (meets population's need) and students (reinforces didactic learning and enhances soft skills); and student self-reflection. (3-6)

Although the 2001 PAC Report has described clear, achievable elements of service-learning, a scenario close to that described in the introduction is often what occurs. As a follow-up to the 2001 report, 34 pharmacy schools in the 2013-2014 AACP Academic Leadership Fellows Program were surveyed by the PAC to evaluate the general characteristics of service-learning components found in their programs and if they ultimately met the intent of the 2001 PAC Report and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) Standards. (7) Schlesselman and colleagues' study concluded that although 100% of the 34 schools were engaged in community service, each school's method of incorporating the activities into the curriculum and adoption of the service-learning standards set forth in the 2001 report varied. (7) Specific areas of concern were the inconsistent opportunities offered for student reflection, sparse feedback to students regarding their reflections, and lack of clear learning outcomes. …

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