by Joy Brown
In fall 2018, a pregnant City Mission resident was persuaded to get a flu shot after hearing a wellness presentation offered by University of Findlay pharmacy and occupational therapy students. Other Mission residents who had been vaccination skeptics also changed their minds.
“We were initially unsure of how the residents would respond to our topic, as there are many patients that we talk to who do not believe that vaccines are truly beneficial to their health,” said Libby Nicole Stabler, a fifth-year pharmacy student. “However, we were pleasantly surprised with how well they responded to both the activities/games that we prepared for them, as well as how much of an impact the presentation seemed to have on them. It was great to see the information we presented make a direct impact on patients, especially those who may have limited access to healthcare,” she explained.
Kendall Germann, a fellow fifth-year pharmacy student, said Mission residents were “all very friendly” and “had lots of questions. It was a very good experience and I loved being able to answer any questions they had,” she added.
The academic opportunity, which paired pharmacy and occupational therapy (OT) students for health-related lessons they presented at the Mission that semester, positively affected students too. “The community members really enjoyed the academic service learning project,” maintained another pharmacy student as part of a follow-up survey about their participation, adding, “They were or all appeared eager to learn, which means there is room for us as health care professionals to step in and close this gap!”
Tim Burkhart, Pharm.D.,
Assistant Professor of Teaching in Pharmacy Practice and Assistant Professor of Experiential Education
University of Toledo – Doctor of Pharmacy and Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy Studies
Cynthia (Cyndy) Goodwin, O.T.D.,
Professor of Occupational Therapy
Chatham University – Doctor of Occupational Therapy; Eastern Michigan University – Master of Science, and Bachelor of Science
Crystal Weitz, M.B.A.,
Director for Service and Community Engagement
University of Findlay – Master of Business Administration; Ohio Northern University – Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science
Beyond the PowerPoint
For the past two fall semesters, UF’s pharmacy students have taken part in City Mission service-learning, with OT joining in fall 2018. Students were tasked with creating 40-minute presentations, preferably that also incorporate hands-on activities, for residents that offer practical information for improved lifestyles. Some of the subjects included stress management techniques, medication scheduling methods and life strategies for dealing with chronic illness. The students, professors and staff involved used Mission demographic information to tailor the topics for maximum relevance, said Tim Burkart, Pharm.D., assistant professor of teaching in pharmacy practice and assistant director of experiential education.
Collaboration included pharmacy students selecting a topic, and occupational therapy students adding to the presentation from a lifestyle perspective. “OT’s focus is on ‘doing,’ not just talking and presenting info,” said occupational therapy Professor Cynthia Goodwin, O.T.D., MS, OTR/L.
This type of learning not only meets accreditation standards for the University and academic accrediting bodies, but inculcates a culture of compassion and empathy within students so that they may better serve the public.
For OT students, it helps fulfill the program’s advocacy requirement, which mandates that students “be able to articulate the positive benefits of occupational therapy to someone in the community.” Although an essential component of healthcare, OT is often not as well understood by the public as some of the other health professions, professors contend.
Along with delivering compelling talks, participating groups were encouraged to “be creative and think outside of the PowerPoint, because the community might not learn in that way,” said Crystal Weitz, UF’s director for service and community engagement. Audience consideration was of particular importance, given individuals’ circumstances, and students’ future careers working with diverse populations.
Burkart said he tells his pharmacy students, “People will walk up to your counter and ask you questions, and you’ll have nowhere to hide. You’ll be imbedded within the community, so you might as well get used to fielding questions and being in close quarters.” But the benefits of such learning are reciprocal, he said. “As Mission residents, they get the benefit of interacting with someone different. You have professionals being more approachable to different client populations. It breaks down those perceived walls,” he explained.
Goodwin concurred with Burkart regarding alternative learning experiences outside of the classroom. “Any chance for students to work with real clients of a culture out of their comfort zone is a great addition to their learning,” she said.
Questions from Mission residents that students couldn’t immediately answer during their lessons were written down so that another group could follow up with answers, Burkart said. Students also passed on practical information to subsequent groups. “We had a running Google Doc, and we’d put anything on there that might help the other group. I loved how there was continuity,” Burkart added.
The semester-long Mission presentations developed from one-off sessions that health professions students have conducted for years – and still do – within the community for various organizations, such as Children’s Mentoring Connection within local schools, the Alzheimer’s Association, and Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio.
The fall Mission work is also meaningful, but “is a different type of teaching” that’s longer term, Burkart maintained. “I don’t just want to go through the motions. I want to make something that’s worthwhile. You’re open to this idea of the community voice being your education partner.”
“Faculty, staff and students wanted to participate in a more embedded and involved approach to one community partner for the Fifth-Year Experience in Pharmacy,” said Weitz. Occupational Therapy students and faculty felt the same way.
The Mission presentations have been followed by classroom discussion and reflection that requires students to consider what went well, what surprises they encountered, and how things can be improved.”
“I always want to make things better,” said Weitz of service-learning experiences, “So I want there to be an assessment. It’s not just cut-and-paste. I always want to know what we did well and what the students have to say about it. If we have students and nonprofits benefiting from all this, that’s the best.”
Mission administrators have also had positive experiences collaborating with UF students to help residents.
“These students have been instrumental in teaching our residents anything from healthy coping habits to job interview best practices, from personal hygiene tips to how to correctly dispose of expired medication,” said Brandon Montague, community relations manager for City Mission. The students, faculty and staff “treated our homeless men and women with the utmost respect,” and “were friendly, professional, and accommodating,” he noted.
“We are extremely grateful for this partnership and look forward to working with the University in the future,” Montague concluded.
Now, Burkart, Goodwin and Weitz are hoping to recruit more health sciences faculty, and incorporate more nonprofits, into their expanded service-learning model. Recently, they made an appeal to the College of Health Professions faculty. Physical therapy faculty have expressed interest in joining, Burkart said.
Goodwin, Burkart and Weitz said they would enjoy having other academic programs at UF, along with community nonprofits, participate and benefit. Additional participation would also offer an infusion of ideas. “I think overall, collaboration and efforts so far have been awesome,” said Burkart.