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Service Learning in Undergraduate Medical Education

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The Role of Service Learning in Doctor of Medicine (MD) Program

The mandate of the Undergraduate Medical Education Service Learning Office is three-fold:

  1. that volunteer and philanthropic student-run initiatives fit a service-learning paradigm;
  2. to increase the capacity for service learning across the curriculum, including mandatory opportunities within the curriculum; and,
  3. to increase faculty involvement in service-learning projects and course work and to recruit and train faculty to serve as mentors, advisors, and reviewers of student service learning projects.

Service Learning in Undergraduate Medical Education

The purpose of Service Learning within Undergraduate Medical Education is to unite academic study and volunteer community service in the spirit of social accountability.  Service learning provides a tangible experience that is immediate, applicable and relevant.  Through knowledge, analysis and reflection, students are able to synthesize their classroom academic learning in a way that positively affects and informs the service.  The service may involve teaching, health care, community development, environmental projects and a host of other activities that contribute to the well being of individuals, communities, nations, or the world as a whole.

In service learning medical learners use the experience of service as one source of information. Students can reflect on and analyze critically what they learn from the service, just as they are asked to analyze the information and ideas garnered from the sources of traditional academic study.   Although significant service learning in Undergraduate Medical Education is through voluntary and philanthropic avenues, Service Learning can be integrated through learner experiences and incorporated into core instruction where academic credit is awarded not on the service performed, but for the learning, which the student can demonstrate in their written papers, classroom discussions, exams and other forms of assessment.

Service learning demands that students understand the service agency – its mission, philosophy, assumptions, activities and governance – and the conditions of the lives of those who are served.  The Service Learning Office endeavours to maintain a database and resource list for all agencies that enable service learning for students.  The Service Learning Office also reviews new and existing service agencies with the aim of establishing both formal and informal learning opportunities within and external to the core curriculum.  Above all, service learning is characterized by a relationship of partnership: the student learns from the service agency and from the community and, in return, gives energy, intelligence, commitment, time and skills to address human and community needs. In addition, the agency learns from the students.  Students, faculty and service agency personnel work with and learn from each other.

The success of a program is measured not only by what the student learns but also by the usefulness of the students’ work to those served.

Why is Service Learning Valuable and Necessary?

Service learning both supports and develops student learning and provides increased resources to individuals and communities primarily in areas that are under serviced and social-economically disadvantaged to:


For more information about Service Learning at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, please contact:

Dr. Teresa VanDeven
Coordinator, Curriculum Oversight
Faculty Lead, Service Learning