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Acad Med. 2013 Sep;88(9):1212-4. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31829ec9f2.

Dancing through Cape Coast: ethical and practical considerations for health-related service-learning programs.

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  • 1University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


Short-term service-learning programs that focus on global health are expanding rapidly, spurred by students' desire to be of service in a world that has been made to seem small by new technology and universities' willingness to embrace the goal of educating global citizens. In this commentary, the author uses experiences from a recent trip she led to Ghana as a backdrop against which to explore some of the ethical and practical issues that arise when U.S. students work in health-related programs in developing countries. At minimum, the author argues, these programs should lead students to consider issues such as which basic services people are entitled to, regardless of where and in what circumstances they live, and how differences in access to social and economic resources contribute to health disparities on a global scale. She also suggests that sponsoring institutions should consider what is owed to the countries and communities in which their students learn. Finally, she underscores the circumstances under which service-learning programs can truly benefit the cause of global health.

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