Written by Matt Jalink, Community Health & Epidemiology student at Dalhousie University
Service Learning is a program that if offered during the first two years of Undergraduate Medical Education at Dalhousie University. The program integrates community engagement concepts into classroom-based learning (Professional Competencies class) in their first year with an optional community-based project experience in their second year. The projects are designed in collaboration with community partners (including staff and people who use their services) and the university (students, staff and Faculty) to address a community-identified issue or gap in knowledge.
Andy Jin, Sam Armstrong and Chad Purcell are second year Dalhousie Medical Students partaking in the service-learning program facilitated by the Dalhousie Global Health Office. Andy is based out of Dalhousie Medical School’s New Brunswick’s campus while Sam and Chad can be found on the Halifax campus. I sat down with Andy, one of the program’s student representatives with the Service Learning Leadership Team, as well as two part-time pharmacists Sam and Chad, to discuss their service learning projects for this upcoming year.
Tell us about yourselves and your pathway to Medicine
Andy: Many individuals have been influential in my decision to pursue medicine at Dal, but most important of all was my wife. As a Chinese national, she helped me to understand the poverty and the sufferings of many individuals in the world. Every step of the way, she was there right beside me, encouraging and inspiring me to look beyond our immediate surroundings for a greater good.
Chad: I grew up in Bedford, Nova Scotia and first started considering medicine as a career during junior high. High school helped solidify my interest in medicine, and I decided to attend Dalhousie upon graduation. After completing a BSc in Biology, I applied to both the medicine and pharmacy programs at Dalhousie and was accepted into pharmacy. I was still interested in medicine after finishing pharmacy, so I reapplied and was accepted into the Dalhousie Medicine class of 2019.
Sam: I also grew up in Bedford and after one year of undergraduate science was accepted into the Dalhousie Pharmacy program. Pharmacy gave me the opportunity to interact with patients in health-related setting, and I enjoyed the hands-on clinical care aspects of the program. The idea of acting as the coordinator of care and the wide range of opportunities medicine offers influenced me to pursue medicine here at Dalhousie.
Why did you choose to pursue the Service Learning Program?
Andy: The Service Learning program offered a unique opportunity for me to dive into the real world of medicine and learn about the needs of our community in an organized manner. I wanted to see the reality of health and medicine, not just in an artificial school environment. Also, the safety and feedback mechanisms that were incorporated into the SL (Service Learning) program gave me the assurance that this experience will be a valuable asset to not only my medical career, but also to my personal growth.
Sam: I saw it [the service learning program] as a good opportunity to become actively engaged in the community. It offers a structured framework for community service, and in this case, an avenue to advocate for underserved populations.
Chad: I was happy with the opportunity the Service Learning Program provided to become involved with the community. The creative component of the project also appealed to me.
What type of work will you be doing with our Service Learning partners?
Andy: The details of the project are yet to be finalized. I will most likely work on a Needle exchange program, a harm reduction intervention that intends to minimize and mitigate the harmful effects of substance abuse in individuals. Ultimately, I hope this will help to empower those clients to make everlasting changes that will improve their health and well being.
Chad + Sam: We will both be working with Direction 180, a community-based nonprofit organization operating on a harm reduction model. We are tasked with making video focused on increasing awareness of Naloxone, an anti-opioid medication critical in treating opioid overdose in an emergency situation. Heroin, fentanyl, and morphine are some common examples of opioid drugs. Naloxone blocks and counters the effects of opioids including slowed breathing, extreme drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. Our video will target the opioid-dependent population to raise awareness of the lifesaving treatment that is now available without prescription for emergency use.
What results are you hoping to achieve from this project? What you hope to gain from this experience yourself?
Andy: In a general sense, I hope to see an improvement of health and well being among the clients. Specifically, the needle exchange program can decrease transmission of communicable diseases, minimize overdosing, and reach the marginalized population. Realistically, it might not be possible to observe any tangible improvements, but a step towards the right direction is indeed one less step needed for a positive change. Some individuals in current society may not approve of harm reduction strategies, and I understand their concerns. However, the potential benefits of these programs cannot be ignored, and I want to obtain insights on how they can be better implemented to achieve a balance and maximize its strength.
Sam: Our primary goal for this video is to raise awareness of Naloxone’s availability to the opioid dependent population. It is vital that opioid users are aware and have access to this potentially life-saving emergency treatment option.
Chad: Working on this video project will allow us to gain a greater appreciation for the reasons and circumstances that led to the position that these individuals find themselves in. I hope to gain a sense of empathy for what opioid addiction and seeking treatment are like from their perspective.
What have you done to prepare yourself for your Service Learning Project?
Andy: In order to better prepare for the project, I am reading journal articles and publications around relevant topics, such as needle exchange program and substance abuse. For an effective intervention, however, a bottom-up approach is perhaps one of the most important aspects. Listening to the clients and identifying what their needs and wants. As such, my supervisor and I are trying to communicate with various stakeholders who are intimately connected to the clients. This may provide the opportunity for me to interact with the clients and identify effective strategies for the project.
Chad: Both Sam and I took a preparation course through Direction 180 about Naloxone and how to administer it.
Sam: We supplemented the course with reading some background info about Naloxone and the dosage form now available in the community. Going forward, Chad and I plan on meeting again with the Direction 180 staff to see how the video can best address the objectives of the project.
What about this opportunity excites you the most?
Andy: I am very excited about all the life lessons, collaborations, and the meaningful relationships that I can obtain through SL program. These experiences will help me to grow as a competent, compassionate health care professional that has positive impact on the individuals who are in need.
Sam: I’m looking forward to working with opioid dependent individuals to better understand living with opioid addiction in our community. I’m also curious as to the opioid-user’s perspective on Naloxone and their experience with the treatment.
Chad: I’m excited about being out interacting with the opioid dependent community, seeing what a day in their life entails. I am also interested in what Direction 180’s reaction to our video will be, and the impact it has on the community.
I would like to thank Andy, Sam and Chad for sharing their upcoming service learning projects, and I look forward to hearing more about their progress later in the term! If you are interested in learning more about the Service Learning program, please visit our Service Learning webpage.