College of Medicine Service Learning

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Welcome to the MUSC College of Medicine service learning hub! On this site you will find our information and links in one convenient place. Our goal is to encourage service learning and community service as part of your medical training, in the hopes that you integrate and continue it in some form in your professional lives ahead.

Within your academic and educational experience, service learning plays a critical role of getting and keeping you connected to your community at large, encouraging interprofessional collaboration within and outside the field of study you have chosen, and giving you a broader view of the world. Students have universally found service learning to be a positive experience overall, and we aim to support your experience as best we can! In the College of Medicine our students complete their required service learning core during the FLEX period, or a varied timeline if they are in the accelerated medical pathway.

Definitions Matter

On the surface, service learning and community service appear to be one in the same but in fact they are not identical. There are many accepted definitions of Service learning but all contain two essential elements of service and learning, often in the form of preparation and reflection. The latter aspect is what separates it from community service or volunteering, which also tend to focus on providing service but do not place a focus on reflection or at times formal preparation.


Community service and Volunteering and often synonymous, although volunteering can occur in any setting while community service tends to focus on service within a community based organization or event.

The benefits are measurable all around

While we all like the idea of service learning, it also helps to know there is actual data to support the positive effects of students engaging in service learning programs. A meta-analysis of 62 studies involving over 11,000 students showed that students participating in service learning programs demonstrated significant gains in attitudes toward self, attitudes toward school and learning, civic engagement, social skills, and academic performance compared to controls (Celio et al, 2011). Further, service learning has also been shown to have a positive impact on reducing stereotypes and facilitating cultural and racial understanding (Asting and Saxx, 1998). Thoughtfully structured programs bring benefits to communities so this is a win-win all around!

Here at MUSC a significant percentage (greater than 90%) of students participate in community-based volunteer work of some kind throughout their period of graduate studies. Service learning will encompass a similar structure and feel, but with a bit more structure to the experience.

Service Learning Students working at Food Lion FeedsMUSC College of Medicine service learning students.

If you are concerned that the structure of service learning detracts from the experience, (why make it part of the curriculum? Why can’t we just do volunteering when we want?) here’s what students have said in their reflections during FLEX when they complete their required service learning:

"My motivation can experience many lows through my time in medical school but experiences like these help me realize why I am going to medical school in the first place..."

"Because of my service learning I am aware of the needs of the underserved areas of Charleston and will continue to devote my time in volunteering."

“My service experience has strengthened and rejuvenated many values, opinions, and beliefs that were already in place. Prior to my experience I knew the importance of service, but I selfishly did not prioritize service in my first two years of the medical curriculum. The time spent volunteering during the FLEX period has fortified my belief in the importance of serving others. This time has shifted my perspective back to one of gratitude...”

“I think my service (with Charleston Animal Society), along with most kinds of service you can participate in, relates directly to how we should view and interact with the “real world”. Only working to benefit yourself and your needs is a futile and exhausting way to live. But using your strengths and resources to make the world around you a better place without direct person incentive is the key to a very fruitful and fulfilling life. I believe my service directly relates to my long-term goals of taking care of patients apart from myself. Taking care of defenseless animals, who in no way can thank or repay you, teaches a great deal of selflessness and empathy. The only difference is that as a physician, I will be paid for my efforts. But regardless of pay, if my heart is not in the service I provide, I believe it is worth much less than passionate care…I have really been shown how important it is to be involved in things I enjoy and am passionate about.I have been involved in many volunteer organizations and experiences in the past, but truly this one has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying. This has really opened my eyes to the importance of finding work that utilizes my strengths and sends me home filled with enjoyment in my work…” 


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