Service Learning as a Component of Physician Assistant Education; The Development of a Compassionate Practitioner

Knight, Debra, Sharon Moser, and Carla Groh

Purpose: In an effort to provide students with an awareness of urban concerns and to develop their leadership skills and awareness of social justice, a service learning experience was offered to physician assistant students at an urban university in the Midwest.

Method: A descriptive study was conducted to measure the impact of this service learning project, using a non-random sample of 68 PA student participants who completed 10 hours of service learning during the semester at various inner city helping organizations such as shelters, rescue missions and soup kitchens. The students ranked their level of competence in various leadership areas, and rated their interests in a variety of social justice concerns on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 to 5. Paired t-tests were computed to identify differences in self-perception of leadership competencies and social justice interests between pre-service and post-service learning.

Results: The results showed a significant increase in 7 out of 10 self-perception ratings of leadership competencies after the experience and an increase in 6 of 7 social justice interest parameters.

Conclusion: A brief community based service learning exercise can make a difference. Hands on activities can significantly increase self-perception of student competencies in leadership and interest in social justice. This is a valuable step in the development of an empathic, compassionate practitioner.