Being engaged in the surrounding community and striving to make it a better place is a key piece of Penn’s mission and educational goals. Through the School’s varied outreach and service-learning programs, Penn Dental Medicine students provide much-needed oral health services to the community, while broadening their understanding of public health issues. These academically based service-learning programs provide students and faculty with the framework to complete community-based activities as an essential, required component of academic course work. In total, students log approximately 16,000 service hours each year in both required and elective community experiences and the honors program.
This integral part of the curriculum takes students outside of the School’s clinics and campus to connect with diverse segments of the public and come to understand the impact of social, cultural, and economic forces on oral health care. The service learning programs are also an innovative and sustainable model for increasing access to care within the community and provides dental students and faculty with multiple opportunities to work with community partners in existing service programs where oral health education and services can be readily implemented. The required nature of students’ activities ensures that all students receive a consistent level of mentored community activities, and provides a consistent presence in oral health programs organized with agency partners in the community.
A Curriculum Requirement: Each student is required to complete 82 hours of service activities before graduation, as well as a sequence of four academically based service courses (one in each four years of the curriculum). The following chart offers a summary of the four required service-learning courses:
|First Year: Health Promotion||6 hours of classroom education in Philadelphia public schools|
|Second Year: Local & Global Public Health||12 hours of experiences with University interdisciplinary programs and other social service agencies|
|Third Year: Experiences in Community Health||24 hours of clinical activities in Philadelphia School District programs and LIFE Dental Center|
|Fouth Year: Advanced Experiences in Community Health||40 hours of clinical activities in Philadelphia School District programs and LIFE Dental Center|
Students also have the opportunity in their second, third, and fourth years to apply to the honors degree program in Community Health. The honors program allows talented and motivated students to go beyond the basic requirements to receive an intensive experience in developing and implementing community health programs from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Penn Dental Medicine’s academically based service-learning program is based on a high level of collaboration between the University and community-based partners in West and Southwest Philadelphia, including:
Students enrolled in the Community Health honors degree program provide at least 120 hours in coordinating and staffing these interdisciplinary clinics, and second- and third-year students provide specialized oral health educational programs, complete oral health examinations, and discuss dentist referrals to both the Penn Dental Medicine clinics as well as neighborhood dental centers.