A service-learning experience in a free medical centre for undocumented migrants and homeless people

Arch Public Health. 2021 Jan 12;79(1):7. doi: 10.1186/s13690-021-00530-6.


Background: Service-learning experiences, informed by the realities of poverty and marginalization, are important for the education of future health professionals in order to commit them to tackling health inequalities and working with underserved populations. At the Caritas Medical Centre for undocumented migrants and homeless in Rome, students obtain an educational experience of service. The aim of this study is to try to measure the long-term impact of this experience on the professional and life choices of the student participants.

Methods: A questionnaire was designed and distributed by email to all 19-29 years old participants in the experience. Responses were collected and analysed in a quantitative descriptive way and in a qualitative way using the knowledge, skills and attitudes model.

Results: One hundred and seven students responded from the total 763 questionnaires distributed. Ninety-five percent of participants expressed a very high overall satisfaction, 93% declared that the experience influenced his/her future personal choices, and 84% found that the experience influenced their professional choices. Results were arranged into 6 categories of comments: knowledge about the realities of migration, poverty, and marginalization; relational skills; collaborative skills; attitudes towards migrants, poor people and others; Attitudes towards future professions; Attitudes towards life. A final category was listed with self-reflective questions related to the experience.

Conclusion: This research shows the importance of service-learning experiences made during academic studies from young students of medicine and other faculties. Developing a relationship with marginalized and homeless people, within a voluntary service setting, can influence the future professional and personal choices of students. Universities should recognize the value of such experiences and establish partnerships with non-profit organizations to allow future health professionals to confront health inequities and commit themselves to their reduction.

Keywords: Global health education; Homeless people; Migrants; Refugees; University’s third mission.