Guest Blog: Rural Health Service Learning Institute


This blog originally appeared in the second article of the IPEP Interprofessional Pilot Program Series.

Through a partnership with the Arizona Area Health Education Center Program, the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health started a Rural Health Professions Program in 2008. The program began under the direction of Associate Dean for Community Programs, Jill De Zapien and currently consists of five different week-long, intensive Service-Learning Institutes that take place in different areas of Arizona. One of them is the Rural Health Service Learning Institute (CPH597D) which has been conducted each year since 2009 in rural Gila, Graham, and Greenlee counties. 

Going Interprofessional

As the lead faculty member for the course, I have always felt that, as this service-learning course has developed over the last four years, it would be an excellent interdisciplinary experience for students in nursing, pharmacy, medicine, and public health. Even though it has previously been open to health professions disciplines other than Public Health, we have not actively pursued those students. So when Dr. Schloss and Jill De Zapien came to me and suggested that we pilot the course as an IPEP course this year, I was very excited! 

IPEP representatives from all colleges in the Arizona Health Sciences Center have been meeting since late last year to strategize about course development and student recruitment for the 2013 Interprofessional Rural Health Service Learning pilot.

Each year, course development is also based on community input to determine what the service-learning activities will entail and the focus of the associated learning discussion. The rural area of Arizona where the Institute is held is rich in opportunities for service-learning, and for examining the impact of community economic drivers on the health and welfare of residents.

The boom or bust copper mining industry, the changing face of cattle ranching and cotton farming, the San Carlos Apache Reservation – all contribute to a diverse public health and service-learning experience for all health sciences students in the course. 

A Little History

Last year, 2012, was the first year we conducted the Rural Health Service Learning Institute in Safford/Thatcher, and it was initially obvious that our community partners were a little unsure about what to expect. By the end of the week, however, there was clear excitement.

One highlight of the week was the Community Partners Thank You Breakfast, hosted by Eastern Area Health Education Center (EAHEC) and conducted by the students. The students prepared and presented a wonderful Animoto sequence that used photos and music to provide information about their experiences and their thoughtful reflections on those experiences.

The Community Partners were entranced and excited by the Animoto presentation, asked lots of questions, were very complimentary about the Institute and the students, and told us they were eager to have us return in 2013.

Other highlights from last year’s service-learning activities included:

  • Conducting an oral health fair with the Graham County Cooperative Extension Office

  • Creating and conducting a healthy fun fair for the Graham County Senior Center

  • Visiting with the San Carlos Apache Public Health Department to learn about their innovative tick abatement project to contain Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (the only project of its kind in the U.S.)

  • Attending a debriefing  at the Graham County Health Department about a nearby prison Norovirus outbreak and containment effort  

  • Cleaning out and restocking the Graham County Health Department’s Emergency Preparedness Response trailer

The 2013 Pilot Course

With a standing invitation from 2012, in 2013 the course will again be conducted in the community of Safford/Thatcher, along with activities with the San Carlos Apache Public Health Department and a copper mine tour.

The course a great deal for students - all travel, food, and lodging expenses are covered and students are only responsible for 1-credit, summer pre-session tuition.

Registration Information

For more information see the flyer for this year’s Rural Health Service Learning Institute, which will be held on May 13-18, 2013. Registration is open to all University of Arizona Health Sciences Center students.

Students who are interested in participating in this 1-credit, summer-pre-session course should send a brief email explaining their interest to Dr. Lynda Bergsma, at Dr. Bergsma will provide information on how to register for the course.



About the Author

Lynda Bergsma, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Health Promotion Sciences within the Health Behavior/Health Promotion (HBHP) Section of the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. She has developed and teaches two service-learning courses, for one of which she was awarded the 2009 Delta Omega Award for Innovative Public Health Curriculum.



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