Supporting the Development of a Social Justice Perspective Through Service Learning

Tuesday, 31 October 2017: 8:20 AM

Catherine S. Thomas, DNP, MSN
Leona A. Konieczny, DNP, MPH, BSN, ADN
Nursing Department, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, CT, USA

Undergraduate nursing education programs establish goals and outcomes that connect to department and institution missions as well as to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice (2008). Programs must choose and implement pedagogical strategies that support students in their transition to professional nursing practice. There are many components to professional nursing practice, and when actualized, support the delivery of quality compassionate nursing care to diverse patient populations. The global and dynamic nature of societies and health care systems mandate that nursing programs not only focus on providing a foundation for the development of cultural competence, but also an intentional inclusion of pedagogical strategies that support the development of a social justice perspective. While cultural concepts (awareness, sensitivity, etc.) and social justice concepts are intertwined, social justice encompasses a broader systems perspective (Waite & Brooks, 2014). Social justice has been defined by the AACN as "acting in accordance with fair treatment regardless of economic status, race, ethnicity, age, citizenship, disability, or sexual orientation" (AACN, 2008). Social justice is one of the core nursing values identified by the AACN as important in guiding the nurse to embody ethical behaviors when delivering patient care (AACN, 2008).

One pedagogical strategy that often incorporates social justice learning opportunities is service learning. Service learning has become increasingly commonplace in colleges and universities in the United States. Research on the outcomes of service learning and nursing students have demonstrated a positive influence on critical thinking, professional development and personal satisfaction, along with a sense of accomplishment (Flinders, 2013). There is the perspective that service learning and community service are interchangeable terms. Both community service and service learning provide meaningful services. The primary beneficiary of community service is the recipients. Recipients and providers are both beneficiaries of service learning. It is important that students understand the difference between the types of service. Community service can be dependent on a student’s interest while service learning is tied to either a specific course or discipline of study. Service learning demonstrates benefits for students in terms of personal and social outcomes as well as career development (Bandy, J., 2016). Faculty who have shared service learning experiences with students may benefit in the classroom setting from having engaged students who can apply their experiences to the course curriculum.

Service learning can be incorporated through various approaches at the different levels across curriculums; from short term (health fairs and screening activities), to longer term service experiences (service learning trips). Each opportunity offers students the chance to participate in active learning, experiencing the role of change agent. The students become witnesses to the health care needs and challenges that exist for patients and families. Offering students the opportunity to participate in multiple service learning experiences moves the strategy from a static event to a “dynamic, continuous process which unfolds over time” (Koch et al, 2014).

Every pedagogical strategy presents logistical challenges for faculty at each phase; from planning to evaluation. A case study approach will be used to discuss and share with participants the: potential internal and external resources, faculty and student assumptions, process of student selection, considerations for the student guidelines and boundaries before, during and after experiences, as well as an overview of methods of evaluation.