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Understanding the Effects of Short-Term International ServiceLearning Trips on Medical Students

Abedini, Nauzley C.; Gruppen, Larry D. PhD; Kolars, Joseph C. MD; Kumagai, Arno K. MD

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31825396d8
Global Health Education

Purpose: The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand what meaning(s) preclinical students attributed to participation in one-week international service–learning trips (ISLTs) and what specific experiences during the trips accounted for such perspectives.

Method: Twenty-four first-year students who had participated in one-week ISLTs at the University of Michigan Medical School during February 2010 were invited to participate. Individual, semistructured interviews were conducted from March to August 2010 with 13 student participants. Using grounded theory analysis, several major themes were identified.

Results: Acquisition of clinical/language skills and knowledge of other health care systems were explicit benefits associated with student ISLT experiences. However, in-depth, reflective discussions revealed implicit insights and lessons, the most pervasive of which were student ambivalence concerning the value and effect of ISLTs on communities, issues of privilege and power, and ethical concerns when working with vulnerable populations. These implicit lessons stimulated new insights into future involvement in global health and emphasized the importance of reflection and discussion to enhance ISLT experiences.

Conclusions: The current study suggests that one-week ISLTs may engender implicit insights and lessons regarding ethical and societal issues involved with global health and may stimulate the development of critical reflection on current and future professional roles for student participants. Furthermore, these activities should allow time and space for dialogue and reflection to ensure that this implicit understanding can be put to constructive educational and service-oriented uses.

Author Information

Ms. Abedini is a member of the Class of 2013, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Dr. Gruppen is Josiah Macy, Jr. Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Education, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Dr. Kolars is professor of internal medicine and senior associate dean of education and global initiatives, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Dr. Kumagai is professor of internal medicine and medical education and director, Family Centered Experience and Longitudinal Case Studies, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Kumagai, Office of Medical Student Education, University of Michigan Medical School, 3908D Learning Resource Center #5726, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5726; telephone: (734) 615-4886; fax: (734) 936-2236; e-mail:

© 2012 Association of American Medical Colleges