Back to Evidence & Resource Library

A lasting impact? Exploring the immediate and longitudinal impact of an emergency department service learning help desk program

Cohen AS, Hu S, Bellon M, Wang NE, Sebok-Syer SS
AEM Educ Train

The emergency department (ED) help desk is an undergraduate-run service learning program that screens ED patients for social needs, connects them to community resources, and follows-up to promote connections with resources. Students accepted to the program participate in a didactic course on the fundamentals of social emergency medicine as well as available community resources. Students also receive training around interviewing patients and use of screening software. Students commit to at least three quarters of service, during which they attend weekly team meetings. METHODS: This qualitative study explores the impact of this service learning experience for students. Current and former students were identified by the director of the program. Purposive and snowball sampling was used to select a sample of participants that participated in a semistructured interview. Our codebook was developed inductively using thematic analysis. Themes were presented and discussed with the entire research team for further analysis and refinement. Data collection and analysis used a constant comparative approach, and data collection ceased when saturation was achieved. RESULTS: Study participants consisted of current and former ED help desk student volunteers (n = 21). All participants believed that the ED help desk service learning experience prepared them for future careers by providing an experience that filled a gap in their education. We identified four main themes: (1) participants' perceived impact on patients, (2) learning from patients' experiences and differences, (3) appreciating patients' vulnerability and collaboratively addressing patients' needs, and (4) learning to navigate patients' social needs within the broader health care system. CONCLUSIONS: Our ED help desk service learning program offers a unique experience for students to learn about patients' social needs, participate in meaningfully interactions with patients, and empower themselves and patients to work together as coproducers of patients' care.

Cohen AS, Hu S, Bellon M, Wang NE, Sebok-Syer SS. A lasting impact? exploring the immediate and longitudinal impact of an emergency department service learning help desk program AEM Educ Train. 2022;6(3):e10760. DOI:10.1002/aet2.10760. PMID: 35707394.

View the Resource
Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Provider Experience of Care
Study design
Other Study Design