Service to community has always been integral to the Queen’s medical student experience with our students involved in a range of individual and group volunteer projects every year.
This has evolved into a formalized Community Service-Learning program (CSL) which encourages, supports and provides opportunities for all students who wish to take part. Led by the school’s Teaching, Learning, and Integration Committee (TLIC), the CSL program helps students transform traditional volunteering into full-fledged service-learning.
Service-learning extends volunteer service by requiring deliberate preparation—including consulting community stakeholders—traditional service, as well as reflection on learning. Queen’s School of Medicine has adopted the term Community Service-Learning to emphasize service beyond the campus, encouraging students to engage in the surrounding community.
Service-learning activities are one way that medical students explore crucial physician roles while contributing in a very real way to our medical school’s social accountability to our communities. A student engaged in Community Service-Learning provides service in response to community-identified concerns. This experience allows them to explore connections between their service and academic course work, contextualizing their roles as citizens and professionals through real community-based experiences.
The Queen’s School of Medicine has developed three pathways for students to engage in service-learning activities:
- Participation in an existing student-led volunteer activity with service learning extensions (consultation and reflection)
- Participation in one of several existing community partnerships
- Additionally, some students may choose to extend their existing volunteer plans into a full-fledged CSL experience.
One of the first student-led organizations to develop a CSL option is SwimAbility. SwimAbility Kingston pairs children disabilities with medical students, who teach them how to swim. Lara Casey, a second-year medical student and president of SwimAbility Kingston, has tremendous enthusiasm for this community service:
“SwimAbility is an awesome service learning project because we rely on collaboration between our instructors and the families to provide a top-notch swimming experience for the kids," Casey says. "Our instructors fulfill the preparation aspect of service learning by meeting with their child's family before the first lesson to work through the family's goals for their child for the semester. These goals can be anything from learning a front crawl to putting their toes in the water. Parents have the best insight into what motivates their child, and how to best accommodate their needs.”
According to SwimAbility, children with disabilities have ten times the risk of suffering from a submersion injury than the general population, highlighting the need for this program. As for the future, SwimAbility’s goals are to open up a fifth timeslot and ensure the program remains financially accessible.
“One of the many things I love about SwimAbility is the positive energy that the kids and instructors bring to the pool. If you are feeling drained and discouraged after a long day, watching a lesson is sure to lift your spirits," Casey says. "Everyone is smiling or having fun, and accomplishing things. It makes you feel good to be part of a program that brings joy to kids, and builds water safety skills in children who may need it most.”
One community partnership is with Loving Spoonful. The Loving Spoonful project involves students working with this local organization with a focus on food security issues. Over the next year, students will help with running cooking classes for community members, in a United Way-funded pilot project, working alongside food-insecure individuals and families.
“It’s an opportunity for students to become engaged with the local community . . . and receive first-hand knowledge about the food-security issues that impact the Kingston community,” say co-organizers Steven Bae and Lauren Wilson. “The short-term goal is to have students trial the program, which includes volunteering with the variety of programs that Loving Spoonful has, and reflecting on their experiences. We also want to collect feedback so we can improve it for future iterations.”
Queen’s CSL program is aligned with the Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (CACMS) standards which emphasize social accountability and service-learning.
By facilitating opportunities for CSL activities, the School of Medicine has helped provide students with more opportunities for outside the classroom learning. Queen’s medicine is a tight-knit, supportive community, and for international students, CSL activities allow students step out of the Queen’s medicine “bubble” and develop relationships in the community while developing skills that will serve them in their career wherever they may practice.
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If you’re an international student interested in joining Queen’s University School of Medicine, reach out, and we’ll help you determine if Queen’s University School of Medicine is right for you.