Service learning is one type of placement model that has had great success in promoting rural, community-focused learning and work opportunities within health professions education. During these placements, students deliver a service or complete a project that would otherwise be inaccessible to the community. These placements are particularly successful where there is a shortage of staff, where health and community resources are minimal, and where there is an identified, specific health need.
Service learning placements within rural Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) allow for communities to be provided with health care delivery otherwise not available to them. ACCHOs often have a distinct lack of allied health services which makes them ideally placed for service learning opportunities. Service learning placements in these organisations help solve some of the region's health problems and provide the health services that are needed.
Three Rivers UDRH has worked with First Nation peoples in our footprint to design several service learning placements this year and these opportunities are continuing to provide health students with access to culturally-safe learning opportunities focussed on the delivery of rural health. Research suggests collaborating with First Nation peoples is important for bridging the cultural and health divide between Indigenous peoples and health professionals, and increasing self-determination and control in Indigenous communities.
Three Rivers UDRH co-designs service learning placements with community to ensure that they meet an identified need. This often involves placing health students in non-traditional settings such as schools and early learning centres. The placements are designed with rural community as a central focus, and community immersion activities are built into the placement. This encourages students to develop a sense of social accountability alongside their clinical skills and knowledge to meet course learning outcomes. It also teaches students ways to work through their own values and cultural identity, whilst recognising and respecting difference in others.
The immersive element of these placements aims to increase the awareness of rural health challenges among students and enhance their appreciation of rural practice. Although the independence needed for these placements can challenge students, UDRHs have discovered that such placements improve work-readiness, critical thinking, collaborative, organisational, telehealth and interprofessional skills. Students have reported substantial personal and professional satisfaction with using their expertise to actively contribute to the development of resources and health outcomes.
In partnership with several communities and rural ACCHOs this year, Three Rivers has been able to design and deliver service learning placements focussed on falls risk assessment, the Be Well Program, Elders’ exercise groups, children’s play groups and health checks for First Nations high school students. Designing and coordinating these placements requires strong relationships with multiple stakeholders and we are very grateful for the cultural, clinical and local knowledge shared with us by Aboriginal Elders, ACCHO staff, health professionals, community representatives and other partner organisations. We are proud to work with our rural communities to provide these placements and provide health students with learning relevant to their cultural, professional and personal identities. Rural placements are also a great way to showcase communities as potential locations for future employment.
These opportunities were noted by a student who recently completed a placement within an ACCHO and reflected, “I think that this placement sets us up well for our future practice and makes us really employable as I have learnt so much about cultural safety and how to practice in a culturally appropriate manner”.