Impact of a Required Service-Learning Curriculum on Preclinical Students

Christopher Forest, Desiree Lie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The impact of brief service-learning curricula on physician assistant (PA) students is not well reported. This study explores student learning immediately and then one to 2 years after a preclinical service-learning experience through written reflections and a survey.
The 16-hour curriculum within a behavioral science course involved community immersion and engagement with underserved clients. Reflections written by students from 3 consecutive classes were coded for major themes, and theme frequency was assessed. We then administered a survey to explore the curricular impact after students completed their clinical clerkships.
All students (132/132) completed the required curriculum. We identified 4 major themes from 132 reflections. The themes were (most to least frequent) self-discovery (54/132), patient focus (30/132), community resources (28/132), and patient–provider relationship (20/132). The primary attitude change (self-discovery) was student awareness of their own biases and recognition of the need for cultural humility when caring for underserved clients. In the postcurriculum survey (response 69/95), students recalled community resources as the most important learning, followed by self-discovery. Students viewed the curriculum positively and noted that the exposure increased their comfort with caring for underserved patients in their clerkships.
Immersion in a community-based service-learning experience with underserved clients is associated with increased self-awareness and intent to change behavior. Students perceive the experience as important for future clerkships. Preclinical service-learning curricula prepare students to care for underserved patients.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalThe Journal of Physician Assistant Education
StatePublished - 2018


  • Service learning
  • cultural humility


  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Curriculum and Social Inquiry
  • Medical Education
  • Other Social and Behavioral Sciences

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