Written by Matt Jalink, MSc Candidate in Community Health and Epidemiology
In November 2016, I spoke with second year medical students (Andy Jin, Chad Purcell, and Sam Armstrong) who were about to begin their Service Learning Program experiences facilitated by the Dalhousie Global Health Office. The Service Learning Program is 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 priority issue or gap in knowledge.
At the end of their experience, I met with these three students to hear about their Service Learning projects. Chad and Sam worked with Direction 180 and Mainline, two non-profit organizations in Halifax who implement harm reduction programs for people who use drugs. Chad and Sam, created a video to increase awareness of the emerging opioid treatment medication, Naloxone. Andy worked with RECAP , the Centre for Research, Education & Clinical Care of At-Risk Populations in Saint John.
Chad, Sam and Andy found their Service Learning Program experiences to be positive, meaningful and fulfilling. The unique experiences the program offered allowed the students to see how curriculum concepts present in a real world context. All three noted that they felt privileged to have had this opportunity.
The preparation from the Global Health Office helped them feel prepared to work with the community organizations But they spoke about being overwhelmed with the complexity and wealth of information from the clients. The ability to select their project helped the student’s preparation, and the community partners were excellent at filling in the experiences from the populations that they work with on a daily basis.
The students had many positive experiences with their community partners. Sam and Chad enjoyed learning about Direction 180’s operations, and the vulnerable population they serve. Creating a video to highlight the realities of the opioid epidemic in Halifax and the life-saving treatment programs Direction 180 offer was rewarding. The goal of the video was to humanize the experience of addiction and educate the public about the potential health consequences and contributing factors to the use of drugs.
Andy greatly enjoyed forming new relationships with the wonderful staff at RECAP. The experience included the development of a financial mentoring program that aims to assist and support clients with their finances.
The challenging aspects of the students’ Service Learning program experiences were dependent on the nature of their project. Sam and Chad found some of the technical aspects of their video shooting challenging. Chad noted that with the help of the staff, the interviews with the patients went smoothly. Sam found editing their video to a reasonable length the most challenging due to ample footage.
Partaking in the Service Learning program had an influence on the students’ professional development and future career path. Chad and Sam both noted that gaining insight into the lives of the patients that they will one day serve and learning first hand the extent of the opioid crises in Canada to be invaluable experiences towards their career development. Andy also found working directly with patients to be influential in his own career path, and has a greater interest in becoming involved with public health and policy.
I would like to thank Andy, Chad, and Sam for sharing their Service Learning Projects! They were very insightful, conscientious, and impactful for their communities. For more information on available experiences through the Service Learning Program on both Halifax and Saint John campuses, please visit The Service Learning Program’s webpage.