2009 Rural Health Service Learning Institute

globeDates: August 15 - August 20, 2009

Location: Globe-Miami and San Carlos, Arizona

Serving Learning

In August 2009, eight graduate students from the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health participated in the college's first rural health service learning course, hosted by EAHEC with support from the Gila County Division of Health and Community Services and health leaders from the San Carlos Apache Tribe Department of Health and Human Services.

The goal of the course was to engage student in community-based collaboration in a rural Arizona community where copper mining is the major industry. Students provided service to the host community while learning about factors influencing public health in a rural mining community environment.

Service learning is built on the idea that experiential learning, actually being out in the field instead of the classroom, builds a stronger understanding and partnership between students, faculty and communities.

Activities ranged geographically across southern Gila County and the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Students toured Cobre Valley Community Hospital and the Carlota Mine, learned about mosquito abatement efforts, helped assemble and deliver meals to the elderly and homebound on the reservation, along with creating and piloting a community health assessment survey tool in Globe and Miami for the Gila County Health Department. The experience culminated with the students hosting a community health forum.

The Student Experience

During the week students said they gained a better understanding of both the strengths and challenges of practicing in a rural area. "Being able to see the impact of drugs, alcohol, or even unsafe areas is much more tangible and memorable than reading about it," Karli Thorstenson, a student in the Health Promotion concentration, said.

“While we were only in the area for six days, I believe some lasting relationships were established with a wonderful group of dedicated people who are not only public health professionals, but who are long-time members of the community,” said Jean McClelland, one of the course leaders from MEZCOPH. “We are already planning next steps to explore mentoring opportunities with area high school students interested in the health professions, and following up with a report and recommendations from the Community Health Forum held on August 19 in Globe, which can be used for prioritization and planning by local agencies.” At this forum, the University of Arizona’s MEZCOPH and Rural Health Office representatives emphasized their commitment to building on and sustaining relationships and efforts initiated during the course.

The biggest change for students they said was realizing how dynamic rural communities can be. "It changed my previous notion of rural being desolate - the Globe-Miami community is a vibrant community with a lot to offer," Luik said. "I feel that many rural communities are likely to have more going for them than you see without being there." MEZCOPH professor Lynda Bergsma said part of the goal of the service learning program is to generate student interest in working in a rural area once they become professionals. "We hope that communities will benefit from hosting service learning events by having some students return to the community to do internship projects and ultimately to practice there," Bergsma said.