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Educ Health (Abingdon). 2004 Nov;17(3):313-22.

Applying service-learning through a community-academic partnership: depression screening at a federally funded community health center.

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01655, USA.



Increasingly, health care facilities worldwide, particularly those that comprise the safety-net, are finding themselves understaffed and challenged to meet patients' needs. Identifying additional sources of support and resources is critical for facilities to be able to sustain current and develop new initiatives to improve patients' health.


We present one community health center's reliance on a partnership with an academic medical/nursing institution to develop and initiate a depression screening and treatment project. Incorporating students to help implement or pilot a needed clinical service for a high prevalence condition presents significant rewards as well as challenges. Nevertheless, an academic-community partnership has the potential to initiate systems change at the clinical level.


Using a service-learning modality, medical and nursing students worked with health center providers to initiate a pilot depression screening and treatment program based on the chronic disease model. Implementation of this initiative succeeded in poising the health center for participation in a large, federally supported collaborative on depression in primary care. While students gained insight into some of the challenges faced by safety net providers and their patients, discontinuity in student availability led to uneven pacing in project implementation.


Curricula that employ a service-learning framework can enable health care facilities world-wide to gain additional resources for needed initiatives. Students' learning experiences can provide an excellent mutually beneficial opportunity as a "jumpstart" for new evidence-based clinical initiatives and demonstration projects. Such programs can help meet the needs of patients while enhancing students' education. However, students can neither make up for staffing shortages nor be expected to maintain programs. In order to be successful for the long term, service-learning projects must skirt the pitfalls of the inherent logistical incompatibilities e.g. schedules and length of commitment, between academic institutions and health care facilities.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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