Service-Learning

Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Students engaged in service-learning provide community service in response to community-identified concerns and learn about the context in which service is provided, the connection between their service and their academic coursework, and their roles as citizens. Service-learning:

  • Strives to achieve a balance between service and learning objectives. Partners must negotiate the differences in their needs and expectations
  • Places an emphasis on addressing community concerns and broad determinants of health
  • Integrally involves community partners through principle-centered partnerships between communities and health professions schools.
  • Emphasizes reciprocal learning, where traditional definitions of "faculty," "teacher" and "learner" are intentionally blurred. We all learn from each other.
  • Emphasizes reflective practice: reflection facilitates the connection between practice and theory and fosters critical thinking.
  • Places emphasis on developing citizenship skills and achieving social change.

Citation: Seifer SD. (1998). Service-learning: Community-campus partnerships for health professions education. Academic Medicine, 73(3):273-277.


Service-learning holds a special place in the history of Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH) because CCPH grew out of the first and still the only national demonstration program of service-learning in health professions education. The program, called the Health Professions Schools in Service to the Nation (HPSISN), ran from 1995-1998 and was funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the 17 participating institutions. The program led to a widely cited definition of service-learning (above) and formed the foundation for our continued leadership role in service-learning in higher education.

Below we summarize our work on service-learning and highlight our most requested resources. Visit our Resources pages for additional papers, reports, presentations and other products.

Mobilize knowledge: We made a strategic decision at the start of the HPSISN program to not create a listserv focused on service-learning in the health professions and instead fully support and participate in the Higher Education Service-Learning Listserv sponsored by the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. The listserv is an essential source for timely service-learning news, professional development opportunities and funding announcements.

The knowledge gained through the HPSISN program and our subsequent service-learning initiatives have produced reports, toolkits and assessment tools:

Provide training and technical assistance: From 1997-2011, CCPH held annual service-learning institutes that have trained over 250 faculty, staff and community partners and led to over 100 service-learning courses and programs. A unique and effective component of the Institute was a mentoring model in which participants worked in small groups and as individuals with mentors (the term we use for institute instructors) to further shape their own action plans for service-learning and form a peer support network (see this document and scroll to page 533). Institute proceedings provide an overview of the content typically covered and this peer-reviewed paper presents the service-learning framework developed at the institute.

Although we are not currently offering service-learning institutes, we are continuing to provide service-learning training and technical assistance:

  • CCPH conferences provide an opportunity to deepen your knowledge in service-learning through skill-building workshops, posters, exhibits and community site visits, not to mention the many informal opportunities to consult with experienced service-learning experts from around the world.
  • We also provide on-site service-learning training and technical assistance through the CCPH Consultancy Network tailored to the particular needs of an organization or partnership. If you are looking for a service-learning expert to give a presentation, lead a workshop, or provide consultation, contact us today!

Conduct research: To understand the long-term sustainability and impact of service-learning, we studied the ten-year outcomes of the HPSISN program. Conducted by Amanda L. Vogel as her dissertation work for the PhD in Health Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the study identified what factors influenced the sustainability of service-learning in the HPSISN cohort of 17 health professional schools and explored its long-term impact. Click on the title to open and print the corresponding paper or report: