Service learning for medical students:
program development and students’ reflections
We designed a cross-disciplinary interdepartmental volunteer program, which involved student participation in "community care teams for the elderly living alone." Our aim was to enhance communication between students and the elderly. Students were expected to meet and learn to get along with the elderly, to develop listening and communication skills, and learn to cooperate with student participants in other services. Students were required to devote at least 14 hours per semester to this two-semester program. Between September 2008 and June 2009, 19 students (1st semester), 34 students (2nd semester), 7 students (both 1st and 2nd semesters), respectively, and 15 elderly participants became involved in the program. Students were divided into 15 groups (each with 2–4 students), and each group visited the assigned elderly person at least 6 times per semester. According to student accounts, these visits improved their interpersonal and communication skills and their ability to express concerns with self-confidence. Our analysis of students’ reflections found that early exposure to such community experiences increases their capacity for self-reflection and teaches them how to show respect. The opportunity to develop empathic communication skills with the elderly and learn to cooperate with faculty and colleagues can be beneficial to students in their future medical practice and strengthen the quality of community care.