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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Service learning in Guatemala: using qualitative content analysis to explore an interdisciplinary learning experience among students in health care professional programs

Kathleen S Fries, Donna M Bowers, Margo Gross, Lenore Frost
Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare 2013, 6: 45-52
23430865

INTRODUCTION: Interprofessional collaboration among health care professionals yields improved patient outcomes, yet many students in health care programs have limited exposure to interprofessional collaboration in the classroom and in clinical and service-learning experiences. This practice gap implies that students enter their professions without valuing interprofessional collaboration and the impact it has on promoting positive patient outcomes.

AIM: The aim of this study was to describe the interprofessional experiences of students in health care professional programs as they collaborated to provide health care to Guatemalan citizens over a 7-day period.

METHODS: In light of the identified practice gap and a commitment by college administration to fund interprofessional initiatives, faculty educators from nursing, occupational therapy, and physical therapy conducted a qualitative study to explore a service-learning initiative focused on promoting interprofessional collaboration. Students collaborated in triads (one student from each of the three disciplines) to provide supervised health care to underserved Guatemalan men, women, children, and infants across a variety of community and health care settings. Eighteen students participated in a qualitative research project by describing their experience of interprofessional collaboration in a service-learning environment. Twice before arriving in Guatemala, and on three occasions during the trip, participants reflected on their experiences and provided narrative responses to open-ended questions. Qualitative content analysis methodology was used to describe their experiences of interprofessional collaboration.

RESULTS: An interprofessional service-learning experience positively affected students' learning, their growth in interprofessional collaboration, and their understanding and appreciation of health care professions besides their own. The experience also generated feelings of gratitude for the opportunity to be a member of an interprofessional team and to serve those in need by giving of themselves.

CONCLUSION: The findings support service learning as a platform to encourage interprofessional collaboration among students in health care professional programs. The research will inform future service-learning experiences in which interdisciplinary collaboration is an outcome of interest.

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