Student Corner: Service Learning Program

Service learning isn’t a new concept at Baylor College of Medicine, or in medical education generally. But here at Baylor, medical students have taken ownership of this facet of their education by organizing the Service Learning Program and presenting their projects at the first Service Learning Symposium.

Service learning, as defined by the LCME, is an educational experience that involves medical service that responds to community-identified concerns and requires student preparation and reflection. Service learning already is incorporated into the College’s curriculum in a number of ways, including through a new-student orientation program called PARTAKE (Populations at Risk: Treatment, Advocacy, Knowledge, Experience), as well as through the DDASH (Determinants, Disparities and Societal/Population Health) course for second-year students.

Complementing that required curriculum is the Service Learning Program, spearheaded by third-year students Julie Dorland and Francie Hessel. It’s an elective opportunity for students dedicated to longitudinal, experiential service learning and interested in specific patient populations.

“Medical students at Baylor have always been involved in serving our community, but the Service Learning Program provides an avenue through which to encourage, deepen and formalize these experiences,” Hessel said. “In order to become excellent physicians, students need hands-on education not only in medical sciences, but also in social science and service as it applies to medicine and our patients.”

Dorland added that being involved in the community helps students understand challenges faced by their patients and other factors that could be affecting their health.

“We’re told over and over again that medical care is only 20 percent of a patient’s health. Tying social determinants’ education with service helps us understand how these issues are being tackled in the community, what resources are available to patients, and hopefully how to bring aspects of these resources with us into the exam room,” Dorland said. “At the very least, I think interacting directly with the community in a non-medical role helps us understand and connect with our patients better, which leads to better communication and better care.”

More than 180 students presented their projects at the Service Learning Symposium, held April 26 in Rayzor Lounge. Each student gave a poster presentation about a literature review they had conducted about a social determinant of health and connected that to their work with community partners.

Hessel conducted her Service Learning project at the HOMES Clinic, a student-run clinic that serves patients experiencing homelessness, and Dorland’s community partner was Freedom Place, a recovery center for minors who have experienced sex trafficking, where she wrote curriculum and taught health literacy classes.

Another student, Jeffrey Wang, volunteered at Star of Hope with a group of peers, serving dinner and helping with cleanup. After moving to Houston and seeing homeless people near where he lives and attends school and church, he wanted to learn more about the experience of homelessness and the resources available in Houston. “I appreciated the chance to interact with the staff and the residents at the shelter and to hear a few of their stories,” he said, adding that understanding all factors that shape one’s health is a crucial part of caring for patients.

Drs. Joseph Kass, Lee Poythress and Andrea Stolar, associate and assistant deans in the Office of Student Affairs, all provide leadership to students in the Service Learning Program, but Poythress emphasized that it is student-driven. He applauded the students for their innovation, autonomy and professionalism, and noted that the program certainly had a two-way benefit.

“The programs they worked at certainly benefited, and at the same the students really grew as people and matured with their empathy, intercommunication skills and how to identify community needs,” Poythress said.

Students who completed the requirements of the Student Learning Program earned the Deans’ Distinction in Service Learning. In addition, the Deans’ Awards in Service Learning were recently presented to select students. These awards aim to increase student participation in service learning and community outreach programs. Applications were open to all medical students for funding up to $500 to implement a service learning project. The Student Senate leadership and Deans of Student Affairs selected seven projects to receive the award for this year:

  • Growing Your Branches: Promoting Wellness at the Ashford Crescent Oaks Apartments: Melissa Kok and Erica Ding; $250
  • Casa de Esperanza Reading Program: Emily Burns, Brilelle Crovetti, Savannah Savadel; $100
  • Patient Coordination of Care for Colonoscopy at Healthcare for the Homeless, Harris Health System: Gandhar Data; $250
  • Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies: Mary Taylor Tillman, Ben Todd, Brittany Bryant, Jordan Samo, Amy Engler and Nancy Shenoi; $490
  • Las Americas Sensory Butterfly Garden: Helping Newly Immigrated Children Relate to Their Surroundings: Spencer Barrett, Dylan Fall, Connor Hoch and Brent Price; $470
  • Tackling Human Trafficking in Houston: Saira Alex and Rohit Gupta; $500
  • Engaging Senior Memory Care Communities through TimeSlips: Shveta Abraham, Elizabeth LaFrance and Christopher Wong; $470

Medical students who participated in the Service Learning Program and Symposium.

-By Dana Benson