The Impact of Service Learning on Choice of Future Health Career
Purpose/Hypothesis: Service learning (SL) is an important component of healthcare professional education. SL has been shown to have positive effects on students such as increased appreciation for other health professionals, increased attitudes toward their own health profession, and increased self-efficacy within their health profession. There is also evidence to support that with increased participation in SL, students have more positive attitudes toward SL. The purpose of this study was to determine if SL has an impact on undergraduate Health Science students’ career path choices including physical therapy. It was hypothesized that Health Science students who participate in service learning would have a greater sense of self-efficacy when making career and educational choices, and that service learning would have an influence on their current post-graduate career plans. Number of Subjects: 46 out of 53 participants completed the study (86.8%). 10 participants were pre-OT, 6 Health Administration, 4 pre-Med, 3 Medical Laboratory Science, 3 nursing, 3 PA, 3 Public Health, 2 paramedic, 1 PT, 1 Addiction Counseling and Prevention, and 10 put “other.” Materials and Methods: This study was a non-experimental survey-based study. Subjects were undergraduate Health Science major students at a Midwestern university. The survey consisted of the Community Service Attitudes Scale (CSAS) short form as well as demographic and SL focused questions. There were 75 items that looked at areas such as: students’ attitudes toward service learning, the number of service learning hours completed, areas of service learning, how undergraduate class rank, and current career path. SPSS was used to analyze the data. Results: Of those included, 80.4% were females, 37% were 25 years of age or older, 45.7% were of senior status, and 56.5% had completed four or more years of education following high school. Many students reported working full or part-time while attending school (91.3%), and 89.1% had participated in unpaid community service projects. 28.3% of the students had completed less than 10 hours of service learning while 23.9% had completed over 50 hours. When asked if the specific area of service learning was directly related to their current career choice, 52.2% responded “no,” while 41.3% responded “yes.” When asked if the service learning experience regardless of area/type had an impact on their career choice, 47.8% of participants reported “no,” and 30.4% reported “yes.” ANOVA results indicated no significant differences (P > .05) were found on the CSAS based on the number of service learning hours. However, those who had 10-29 and 30-50 or more service learning hours had higher scores on the CSAS compared to those with less than 10 hours. Chi-square analysis indicated significant results (P < .01) with 26 having positive experiences with service learning, 11 with neutral experiences, and 2 with negative experiences. Data were not analyzed based on professional field/area of interest due to the small numbers in each field. Conclusions: Positive attitudes toward service learning tend to increase as students increase participation in SL activities. However, results from the study indicated that there is no significant difference in service learning and the impact it had on career goals. Future research should explore the impact service learning has while in a professional program such as physical therapy. Clinical Relevance: Although no significant differences were found regarding the relationship between service learning and career choice, service learning has still been shown to have many positive effects on health students. Health Science students and educators can still benefit from service learning in areas such as community engagement, cultural competence, and interdisciplinary relationships.