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In the spirit of social accountability and community engagement

Posted by Kate Rogers on May 27, 2022 in News

A program at Dalhousie Medical School is creating opportunities for students and community partners to contribute to the commitment to social accountability and the Faculty’s strategic pillar of Serving and Engaging Society. On May 3, the Community-Engaged Service Learning Program year-end celebration commemorated its community partners and second-year medical students who had completed their experiences and projects.

The Community-Engaged Service Learning Program is offered during the first two years of medical school and integrates community engagement concepts into classroom-based learning in students’ first year with an optional community-engaged experience and small project contribution in their second year.

This year, 42 Dalhousie medical students, including 34 from Nova Scotia and eight from New Brunswick, participated in the program. They partnered with 24 community-based not-for-profit organizations, many of whom are under-resourced and serve priority communities who may have limited access and experience with health care.

Program manager Sarah Peddle has seen firsthand the value of the program for both students and community partners.

“When students have an opportunity to spend time in community-based settings, it’s the informal conversations that they get to have with people that have the most impact,” she says. “To have future medical professionals in these settings and having conversations with people about what they need from the healthcare system, not only does it provide an opportunity for them to be heard but it can also impact how students practice medicine in the future using these relational approaches to wholistic and patient-centered healthcare.”

Climbing for inclusion

When second year medical student Nathalee Ewers was considering her project, she knew early on that a partnership with Imhotep’s Legacy Academy (ILA) could make her initiative come to life. She designed the BIPOC Climbing Initiative to increase accessibility of traditionally outdoor sports and activities such as rock climbing for BIPOC youth, and to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) participation by integrating rock climbing and physics education through an engaging PD Day experience. Through Sarah Peddle she was connected with ILA, PLANS, and Keknu’tmasiek Welo’ltimk - We Learn Healing (Indigenous Health) who supported her through the development of her project and ensured the initiative was accessible, inclusive, and enjoyable for youth.

“I was fortunate to have grown up with a Saturday science program specifically for Black youth, and I know first-hand the benefits of seeing representation and experiencing words of encouragement from people who looked like me,” says Nathalee. “I started to reflect on what connections I might need to get this going, and a friend suggested that this could make a good Service Learning Project and allow me to develop connections with some great community partners – so that’s exactly what I did.”

Nathalee, who is a candidate to graduate from medical school in 2024, says it has been a privilege to witness and be a part of the incredible programming that ILA, PLANS, and IHIM run for youth.

“I have learned so much about how to thoughtfully create an inclusive space for each individual, and I fully intend to carry that knowledge into my medical training.”

Seeing a new perspective

For Matthew Kivell and Dominique Salh, the Community-Engaged Service Learning Program provided an opportunity to connect with the community and develop an understanding of a population who face many challenges in their daily life. Partnering with the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB), their project, Halifax e-Scooter Advocacy Initiative for Individuals Living with Blindness, aims to understand the impact of e-scooter operation and regulation on those who are blind or have visual impairment. Through community engagement, the pair sought recommendations for improved e-scooter regulation with the goal of informing future decisions with the needs of visually impaired individuals in mind.  

“These individuals face many unique challenges in a world built and planned around those who are able to see,” says Matthew. “Unfortunately, blind, or visually impaired individuals are not always considered in areas such as access to information, employment, and personal activities/leisure, and are also prone to stigma.”

The idea for their project was borne from the realization that there are serious negative impacts of unregulated e-scooter use for those living with vision loss. Having worked as a certified orthoptist and ophthalmic medical technologist with Nova Scotia Health and the IWK prior to entering medical school, Dominique had been exposed to the unique disadvantages of people living with vision loss and the important advocacy work of the CNIB. She and Matthew connected with them and began conducting interviews and small working-group sessions with the blind and visually impaired community to determine how e-scooter usage and policies affect them. The pair hoped to invoke some real change and recognition of the impact that these regulations have on those living with vision loss, something that Matthew says is not always considered when creating such regulations.

“We are at an opportune moment in time as the current Motor Vehicle Act does not have much verbiage for e-scooters specifically,” he says. “As such, the HRM is in the process of developing the Traffic Safety Act where e-scooter regulation is likely to be laid out, making it an important opportunity to make the voices of those with vision loss heard.”

Matthew and Dominique’s work through the Community-Engaged Service Learning Program has already had a real impact for those with vision loss. On April 5, 2022, in response to their collaborative health advocacy letter, the province released a statement making amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act permitting safe operation of e-scooters.

“Seeing the impact of our advocacy has been so satisfying,” says Dominique. “We are humbled to observe the impact we’ve had on the community with the support of the CNIB.”