Service learning in healthcare

Service learning in healthcare – how does service learning differ from volunteering?

On Friday 15 November, the first Service Learning in Healthcare Conference took place at MANDEC, the University of Manchester’s Dental Hospital. The conference was the first of its kind nationally and through workshops and discussions, the conference explored the what, why’s and how’s of service learning. Keynote speaker Dr Julian Skyrme, Director of Social Responsibility began proceedings by introducing the topic, noting that the conference was ‘pioneering’ in leading the way for service learning in the UK. Service learning is already popular in the USA and is becoming increasingly so in Europe.

Service learning is a combination of community involvement, academic study and practical experience. It combines two of the Universities core goals, teaching excellence and social responsibility. Service learning aims to connect a university to its local area and focus on the civic role of the university, strengthening the bond between members of the university and local people. Students go out into the community to groups, organisations or schools to learn as part of their degree whilst providing necessary services to local people.

Unlike volunteering, service learning is credit-based and built into the curriculum, with students completing service learning during their academic study time. Service learning is a mutually beneficial approach, increasing students employability and social awareness and at the same time, delivering essential healthcare to local communities whilst supervised.

Attendees travelled from across the UK with individuals present from institutes including The University of Manchester, University of Sheffield, University of Exeter, Edge Hill University and the Medical Schools Council. The workshops focused on how to overcome barriers to carrying out service learning. Delegates left feeling inspired and equipped with the knowledge to mitigate risks and incorporate service learning into their curriculum.

Service learning has been taking place in many forms across the University for a number of years, despite not being defined as such. One outstanding example is service learning through dentistry, and the “Humanising Dentistry” programme run in the dental hospital. This programme was recognised by the MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship in 2018. Service learning also relates to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3 – “good health and well-being”. SDGs are key to Social Responsibility at The University of Manchester, with the quality and scale of our impact against SDGs being ranked first in Europe and third in the world in the 2019 Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings.