Service-learning: Asking questions to learn what’s happening

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As discussed in a previous blog post, formalizing opportunities for service-learning is increasingly important to schools of medicine, both for the inherent merits of service-learning itself (for both learners and communities), as well as for accreditation considerations.

Queen’s UGME has been exploring ways to address service-learning more systematically, including appointing a Service Learning Advisory Panel. One of the interesting things about service, however, is because of its very nature, it often happens quietly, behind the scenes.

In order to better support undergraduate medical students engaged in service-learning projects, the Panel wants to shine a light on these projects. With this in mind, the Panel, whose members include students, faculty and administrative representatives is issuing a call for information about current community service projects.

Not all volunteer projects meet criteria to be considered service-learning. There are many definitions of service-learning (in fact, there are close to 200 in the literature). The definition Queen’s UGME has adopted (based on one used by the LCME) states:

“Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Medical students engaged in service-learning provide community service in response to community-identified concerns and learn about the context in which service is provided, the connection between their service and their academic coursework, and their roles as citizens and professionals.”

The key triad includes planning (including consulting relevant stakeholders), service, and reflecting on learning. Using this definition, there may be volunteer projects are or could be service-learning as well.

For example, Queen’s Medicine Health Talks sprang from a student interest group. When these first started, the students prepared lectures (under the supervision of practicing physicians) on a number of clinically-relevant topics and invited members of the community to the School of Medicine to hear these lectures. The aim was to welcome and integrate the Kingston community in medical learning. Extending this into service-learning, the students now engage in collaborative planning with both faculty and community members. As well, the lecture series now includes community centres as venues. A post-service evaluation helps students reflect on their learning.

The students involved in the Health Talks took that extra step and asked community members: “What do you want to learn about?”

In the same way that great service-learning projects include a key step of consulting the community about what’s important, the Service Learning Panel wants to hear from members of the UGME community about what they’re already doing by way of service-learning. The next question is how can UG help? Then, what else would you like to do and what support do you need to make this happen?

The Service Learning Advisory Panel’s goal isn’t to change our students’ focus on service: we just want provide support and recognition for these important endeavours in our communities.

The first call is for Established community actions. A second call will focus on new projects. Look for these in the regular UG email communication to all classes. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

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