Crafting Cultural Competency Training in Physician Assistant Education through Short-term Service-Learning Projects

Diane Abercrombie and Cheryl Nicholls
College of Allied Health Professions, University of South Alabama

Service-learning is a pedagogical approach that allows students to associate course content to the service context by means of student reflection and discussion (Eyler & Giles, 1999). An increasing body of evidence suggests that service learning experiences are an effective alternative to the traditional lecture-formats and can be used to help students enhance their knowledge and skills in working with patients from community settings (Knight et al, 2007; Simons, Williams, & Russell, 2011; Kelly, 2013).

The University of South Alabama Physician Assistant (USAPA) program is a 27 month-long, masters level, education program with a training focus in primary care. The major aim of the program is to prepare primary care practitioners who will provide clinical services to a diverse patient population, in particular, rural and medically underserved areas in Alabama.

To better fulfill the USAPA program mission, aspects of physician assistant education in primary care must be restructured. There is a growing emphasis to prepare PA graduates to enter the workforce with the essential skill sets (i.e. positive diversity & social justice attitudes, competence and leadership skills, increase desire to make a difference) to work with vulnerable populations. Our program implemented short-term service-learning projects with vulnerable populations as a viable and powerful pedagogy to enable PA students to experience and appreciate the unique health care and social burdens of the underserved in communities in which they may one day choose to practice.