Teaching healthcare for underserved populations: a model for service-learning with the homeless community
Purpose : The unmet healthcare needs of individuals and families who are homeless represent a growing set of concerns for which physical therapy can provide professional assistance. The purpose of this presentation is to outline the core components of an interprofessional module for students to learn about and from homeless individuals. The module also provided a mechanism for students to share their perspectives on the medical/social service systems in place for individuals who are homeless.Description : All students complete a service-learning course for underserved populations in the second year of the DPT program. In a 8-week module focused on the unmet health needs of the homeless population in the metro area, students were involved in a variety of didactic, clinical and outreach learning experiences. Required experiences included lecture and discussion on national and local health statistics, guest speakers on transitional housing and street medicine, clinical observation in a community health clinic and inpatient addiction center, participation in food-service delivery for the homeless, and outreach with those living on the streets. Students also provided discussion via a closed Facebook© group designed for engagement in and conversation about self-selected health/advocacy activities directed toward meeting the unmet needs of homeless individuals and families. Some students elected to present posters at an interprofessional service-learning session on topics such as nutritional needs of homeless individuals, food delivery services/systems, and a needs-assessment study for pro-bono physical therapy care for those without insurance.Summary of Use : At the completion of the module, students reflected on their experiences in a guided SurveyMonkey© survey. Items included perceptions of medical facilities, characteristics of medical professionals working with homeless patients, self assessment for comfort level, and lessons learned about working with this population. Students gained insight and experience relevant to both the care of healthcare needs and the current systems in place in the metro area. Feedback from the students suggest that their biases were challenged by these learning experiences. Many students reflected that they would include some form of service to homeless patients as a component of the core value of commitment to service once in clinical practice.Importance to Members: The number of people living homeless and their subsequent healthcare needs is increasing. Most DPT students do not have significant exposure to this population, nor do they plan to participate directly as a physical therapy clinician with this population. In an effort to change this paradigm, this program integrated experiences about healthcare needs of the homeless into the curriculum. Outcomes suggest these learning experiences challenged student attitudes, enhanced knowledge, and added skills for meeting those unmet needs. As a result of the module, more students expressed active interest in working with underserved populations.