Bulletin of Dental Education

International Service Learning: Building a Foundation for Interprofessional Education

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Attendees of the “International Service Learning: Building a Foundation for Interprofessional Education” session had the opportunity to interact with dental students, dental school admissions administrators, a university vice president, and representatives of nationally recognized service learning program agencies, who gave their perspectives on how international service learning can be a model for collaboration across institutions and disciplines.

This well-attended session was co-presented by the ADEA Sections on Dental School Admissions Officers and Student Affairs and Financial Aid and was developed in response to last year’s spirited discussion of international service learning. One resolution discussed by the 2011 ADEA House of Delegates dealt with draft guidelines for student clinical experiences abroad, and this session was an opportunity to discuss those guidelines and collaboratively develop best practices for global health care experiences.

Some major topics discussed by the speakers included volunteer ethics and professionalism. Many panelists emphasized the importance of volunteers not providing care beyond their qualifications. It was also noted that the laws with respect to care in the United States should be followed abroad; if you aren’t trained as a doctor, you can’t perform surgery or give medical diagnoses.

Rev. Michael Birnbaum of International Service Learning spoke about his experiences leading over 100 medical and dental teams in 14 countries over 20 years. He expressed the importance of integrating into local health care systems and understanding the language, culture, and community where you are providing care. Successful service learning begins with interprofessional education, and health care providers must work well together and compromise.

ADEA Associate Executive Director for Educational Pathways Anne Wells, Ed.D., spoke about the development of the draft guidelines. Attendees were encouraged to consider how to make the draft guidelines stronger and more useful. A few points brought up during the discussion include:

  • The possibility of adapting these guidelines to audiences beyond predental students, such as adapting them to be applicable to dental hygiene students
  • Reframing the guidelines to focus on the principles of the profession and incorporate statements on ethics and professionalism
  • Adding examples of what positive and negative experiences look like, indicating that just because a local provider says it’s okay behavior doesn’t necessarily make it ethical
  • Including a recommendation to incorporate ethics into the curriculum prior to trips abroad
  • Emphasize that it is not okay to do these practices in the United States or abroad

ADEA has developed guidelines for Predental Students providing patient care during clinical experiences abroad, found on the ADEA website

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