July 19, 2016

Successful students, better Birmingham

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The Office of Service Learning was formed by the School of Medicine to enrich the learning experience by taking advantage of our students’ deep commitment to helping others.  Service learning is defined as a structured learning experience that combines community service with specific learning objectives, preparation and reflection The service should address community identified concerns, and is developed and implemented in collaboration with the community. 

The Office of Service Learning (OSL) seeks to increase the number of courses where students can participate in meaningful work in the community while reinforcing and enhancing the lessons being taught in the classroom.  Our goal is to create doctors who not only have the required knowledge and skills to practice medicine, but who understand the impact of social factors on health and who can respond in a culturally-appropriate way to the needs of all their patients.

Service learning leaders 
CarolineHarada OSLDr. Caroline HaradaAs Assistant Dean for Community-Engaged Scholarship, Dr. Caroline Harada oversees both service-learning and Learning Communities with responsibility for the long-range planning and evaluation of community engagement efforts. This includes expanding current courses with applicable learning objectives to insert service-learning as well as developing new courses, such as an elective course on social determinants of health slated for Spring 2017. 

KristinBoggs sizedKristin BoggsAs Program Director of the Office of Service Learning, Kristin Boggs serves as a liaison between faculty and community partners, helping to identify community needs and find ways that students can meet a need while also increasing knowledge and skills learned in medical school classes.

Together, they work to improve the quality of reflection that takes place before, during and/or after service, so that students can understand the service in the context of their courses and overall professional development.

This year in service learning
OSL implemented service learning as a requirement in one course (Learning Communities) for first-year students and as an option in two courses for second-year students (Endocrinology and ICM-2). 

In Learning Communities, students performed a wide variety of service work with a focus on learning about social determinants of health.  They then discussed their experiences with their LC and discussed how social factors affect health in the context of a real clinical case.  Then Learning Communities had the opportunity to propose future courses or service experiences for SOM students to further enhance learning about social determinants of health. 

In Endocrinology, students learned how to effectively communicate about preventing and managing diabetes to patients of varying levels of health literacy. They paired up and conducted interactive health education sessions in shelters, senior centers and schools. 

In ICM-2, seven ICM groups spent an evening with their preceptor at Equal Access Birmingham, UABSOM’s student-run free clinic, instead of a typical patient encounter in the hospital setting. This allowed them to meet the needs of an underserved population while seeing how their clinical skills can be applied and modified in real world situations. 

In addition to these courses, OSL served in an advisory role to Equal Access Birmingham and two new student organizations, Academy of Health Sciences Mentoring Program and Socially-Responsible Medicine.  

Goals for the future
OSL will be increasing the service learning options available to first- and second-year students in the coming year.  Many of these expansions were proposed by students, including a nutrition and cooking class in which medical students will learn to perform cooking demonstrations at the East Lake farmers market, as well as an elective course on social determinants of health in the spring. We're also working to offer service-learning options in the Neuroscience module (vision screenings with preschoolers) and Pulmonary module (smoking cessation with people living in public housing). None of these activities will be mandatory, but all will be an impactful way to put learning into practice.

Getting involved
Each course offering service learning will notify students when they can sign up, usually on the first day of the course. The first opportunity for incoming first year students will be on Aug.15 at your Learning Community session, when students from your LC will have an option to sign up for a service project as a team. Additionally, the OSL will email out sign-up information for the Nutrition and Cooking Class, which isn't based in a course but is a stand-alone service opportunity, early in the fall semester.  We also encourage you to connect with the various extra-curricular, service-oriented groups in the SOM, including EAB, Academy of Health Sciences Mentoring Program and Socially-Responsible Medicine.