Service learning is a teaching-learning strategy increasingly utilized in undergraduate nursing education (Ross, 2012; Stallwood & Groh, 2011). Service learning as a teaching learning strategy provides the opportunity for students to meet academic objectives while engaging in service opportunities in the community (Ross, 2012). This experiential, multifaceted teaching-learning strategy is discussed as having the potential to bridge nursing education’s known theory-practice gap, providing enduring benefits to RNs in professional practice (Eyler, 2009). A number of valuable skills necessary for professional practice are described as outcomes of service learning in undergraduate nursing education. Identified outcomes of undergraduate service learning include cultural competency, critical thinking, civic engagement, social justice, leadership, and collaboration which are qualities essential to nursing students’ future practice as professionals (Amerson, 2012; Cox, Murray, & Plante, 2014; Flinders, 2013; Groh, Stallwood, & Daniels, 2011). Identifying how these outcomes translate to professional nursing practice provide nursing educators with a deeper understanding of service learning as a teaching-learning strategy. A qualitative research study was undertaken to increase the understanding of the impact of undergraduate service learning experiences on the professional practice of RN to BSN program graduates.
The study participants, eight RN to BSN program graduates, completed semi-structured interviews either in person or by phone. Data analysis was completed using a constant comparative method to identify themes from initial codes. Five themes emerged as findings of the study as participants described how their service learning experiences as students impacted their professional practice; a Practice Innovator, a Leader, a Nonjudgmental Practitioner, a Mindful Practitioner, and being Civically Engaged .The findings of this study add to the understanding of service learning as a teaching-learning methodology assisting nursing educators as they continually seek the most effective teaching–learning methods for preparing future nursing professionals.
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