How Service Learning Can Impact Medical Students’ Perceptions of Social Responsibility

Sherry A. McDonald, Chris Cale Cale, Sunddip Panesar-Aguilar, Michelle McCraney


As criticism intensifies regarding healthcare disparities, the Liaison Committee for Medical Education has added accrediting standards mandating Service Learning (SL) in their curriculum. SL is a viable educational method to enhance social responsibility and other elements of professional identity. The problem of implementing highly effective SL projects in medical education was addressed in this study. Kiely’s model of transformational SL was used in this basic qualitative study to examine 10 medical students’ experiences during an SL project. The research question for the study was focused on the students’ descriptions of their experiences to understand how they perceived changes in themselves resulting from participation in SL. Findings from the data collected with semistructured interviews indicated that medical students described SL experiences as beneficial for community integration, educating others, and gratification. They expressed disappointment that they did not know the results of their projects. They related SL experiences that were eye-opening for them and stated that SL influenced their development of compassion as well as their intent to serve their community in their future practice of medicine. The resulting research study consisted of a curriculum plan for a required, credit-bearing SL project. The research contributes to positive social change by the intentional design of a transformative SL curriculum to foster social responsibility development.

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Copyright (c) 2021 Sherry A. McDonald, Chris Cale Cale, Sunddip Panesar-Aguilar, Michelle McCraney

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