Date Presented 04/20/2023

Researchers conducted a mixed-method study evaluating the impact of a Community Engagement Model (CEM) on graduates’ entry-level competence. Participants consisted of OTD alumni who took a cancer survivorship elective with a community service-learning component. Participants reported perceived competence and indicated that engagement in service learning improved entry-level knowledge and skills, enhanced cancer culture awareness, and heightened their interest in cancer care.

Primary Author and Speaker: Katie M. Polo

Additional Authors and Speakers: Taryn J. Springgate, Megan Yingling, Sierra Kern, Ashton S. Williams, Shelby D. Cash, Katherine Kelley

PURPOSE: Several healthcare disciplines have found integrating Community Engagement Models, such as a service learning pedagogy into curricula is effective in improving students’ competence and preparing them for entry-level practice; however, a paucity of recent literature specific to OT education exists. The purpose of this study was to examine if the competence of doctorate of occupational therapy alumni was affected by their experience in a cancer survivorship elective with a community service learning component. The research questions that guided this study were: 1. What is the experience of perceived competence that participants in the elective describe? 2. What is the relationship between years of experience and the perceived competence scale? 3. What is the difference among practice settings on the perceived competence scale? 4. How do the themes generated from the focus groups support, modify, or contradict the perceived competence scale findings?

DESIGN: Researchers used a sequential explanatory mixed methods design. Participants were OTD alumni that were enrolled in a Cancer Survivorship Elective during their time as students.

METHOD: The quantitative research included a five-point Likert scale questionnaire to assess alumni’s perceived competence. This data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, correlation analysis, and ANOVA. The qualitative portion consisted of semi-structured, virtual focus groups and interviews to further explain quantitative findings. Qualitative data were analyzed using multiphasic thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Ten participants completed the study’s quantitative portion (n=10), while eight completed the qualitative focus group (n=8).Years of OT experience and total perceived competence exhibited a positive, yet weak, correlation. A one-way ANOVA revealed no significant difference in perceived competence between current practice settings. However, total perceived competence scores indicated that participants felt they had advanced to expert competence working with the cancer survivor population after taking the elective. Six qualitative themes were revealed including hands-on experience, perceived gain of knowledge and skills, deeper understanding of the community setting and cancer culture, gained confidence working with cancer survivors, ability to apply course to current practice, and interest in cancer care. Participants also felt that they had increased confidence for entry-level practice following the elective and described transferable skills they apply in current practice.

CONCLUSION: Integrating a community engagement model, such as a service learning pedagogy, has the potential to enhance perceived competence, gain of knowledge and skills, confidence with entry level practice, and can spark interest in the topic area of the course. Educators should consider designing courses with a service learning pedagogy to target knowledge and skills desired for competence. This proposal is important as it highlights the benefits of integrating service learning into OT curricula for those in academia.


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Peterson, J. J., Wardwell, C., Will, K., & Campana, K. L. (2014). Pursuing a purpose: The role of career exploration courses and service-learning internships in recognizing and developing knowledge, skills, and abilities. Teaching of Psychology, 41(4), 354–359.