Monday, February 26, 2007

Service Learning: Hospice Volunteer Medical Students

Service learning is a teaching and learning approach that connects classroom learning with meeting community needs. It is not the same as community service, another excellent practice. Service learning evolves from the classroom curriculum. For example, after students learn how to write a letter, they write a real letter to nursing home residents and possibly receive a letter response.

A former school principal, I have been a national service-learning consultant for many years and have been instrumental in implementing service-learning in school districts across the country. My book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes includes a chapter on intergenerational partnerships between schools and nursing homes. I know the positive impact it has on students, both academically and affectively. A win-win activity, it also positively impacts service partners.

The research article I’m about to address made me smile after I read it, not because it is funny, but because I knew what the outcome would be. Published by the “American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care,” the article explains research using first-year, service-learning medical students to serve as hospice volunteers.

Hmmm, understaffed nursing homes with future doctors working as hospice volunteers --sounds like a perfect marriage. My thoughts were confirmed when I read, “There is evidence of the educational benefits of exposing medical students to hospice patients and practices.” The article states further, “It appears to be an efficient way to satisfy the need for volunteers, while contributing to the education of the involved students.”

Service learning is a great practice that is long overdue in this research context. I definitely hope that service as hospice volunteers in nursing homes will become a regular part of training for medical students.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog


  1. When I clicked on the link, I got referred to a different article. Can you provide either a correct link or a full citation to the article about using medical students as hospice volunteers?

    Thank you!