Improving Service Learning Curricula in Medical Education

Endorsed In: 
March, 2017
Paper Type: 
Position Paper

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  • Nikita Arora (McMaster University)
  • Karen Ngo (McMaster University)
  • Isuri Weerakkody (University of Toronto)
  • Samik Doshi (University of Toronto)
  • Rishad Khan (Western University)


Service learning is defined as intentional community work through which students simultaneously provide a service and gain meaningful learning experiences. Research demonstrates that service learning can improve students' higher order thinking, empathy, cultural awareness, interpersonal development, and motivation to engage in social issues. Medical schools across North America have incorporated service learning in a heterogeneous manner. The goal of this paper is to make recommendations around the principles that should guide medical school service learning curricula. Although some of our recommendations may also apply to global service learning, this paper is intended to focus on local service learning within the communities in which medical schools are embedded.


  • Service learning curricula should include mentorship to guide student learning.
  • Students should develop formal learning objectives with their mentor prior to completing their placement to direct their learning experience.
  • Opportunities for structured, continuous reflection should be incorporated into the placement.
  • Evaluation of both students and mentors should be carried out at the end of the placement.
  • Service learning projects should be developed and executed through consultation with community stakeholders.
  • Where possible, service learning projects should include components of interprofessional collaboration.
  • Service learning projects should be sustainable for the community in which they are developed.
  • Students should receive pre-placement training prior to completing their service learning project.