Service learning in public health: Frameworks, results, and sustainable community partnerships

Aline Germani, MPH1, Rima Afifi, PhD, MPH2, Mayada Kanj, MPH1, Tamar Kabakian-Khasholian, PhD, MPH1, Martine Najem, MPH1, May Massoud, PhD1, Sarah Armoush, MPH3 and Lara Al Sayegh, MPH1
(1)American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon, (2)Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon, (3)Newcastle University, Newcastle, United Kingdom

APHA 2017 Annual Meeting & Expo (Nov. 4 - Nov. 8)

Service learning (SL) is a type of experiential learning which uses “structured, critical inquiry” and stresses the importance of establishing partnerships with communities for mutual benefit. Evidence suggests that introducing SL into curricula increases student and faculty volunteerism and support for community initiatives, and ultimately contributes to advancing social change, social justice and development of healthy communities. Institutional support for such curricular integration is fundamental to enhance success, adoption and sustainability in academic settings. A team of researchers at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) of the American University of Beirut developed and tested a framework for SL in public health. The intent was to institutionalize SL at a programmatic level rather than in individual unconnected courses. This was hypothesized to lead to a better learning experience for FHS students as well as more effective achievement of student and community outcomes. The Center for Public Health Practice, a unit within FHS, coordinated this initiative. The developed framework was tested in 6 courses between 2013-2015; 281 students, 7 faculty members and 30 community partners were involved. Evaluation methods included in-depth interviews with faculty members and community partners and a self-administered survey with students. Student evaluation results showed positive outcomes in terms of personal development (e.g. 91% agreed that the SL experience made them more comfortable in professional settings), interpersonal skills, importance of civic engagement (e.g. 86% agreed that as a result of the SL experience, they are more aware of their responsibility to serve the public good), increased tolerance of diversity (e.g. 88% agreed that the SL experience made them more considerate of the existence of diversity in their community), among other outcomes. Community partners stated that students provided the needed human resources and evidence-based solutions to address public health needs. The collaborations that began from the SL experience extended beyond SL and developed into sustainable university-community partnerships to improve the health of the populations served. The presentation will share the main components of the SL conceptual framework, the facilitators and challenges to its implementation, and the evaluation results at the level of faculty members, students and community partners.

Public health or related education