The first Alternative Spring Break trip offered through Stanford Medical School occurred in March of 2009 when seven medical students traveled to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota to learn about Lakota culture and the health issues affecting the community with the lowest life expectancy in the United States. However, it was noted that service without forethought, planning, reflection and sustainability is a disservice both to the community and to the students themselves—an educational opportunity missed. Thus, this service-learning trip, “Rural and American Indian Health Disparities,” seeks to connect the classroom to the upstream factors that lead to health disparities faced by rural and American Indian communities and then engage students in service projects that directly address these factors.
The first part of the course will consist of classroom instruction, lectures and discussions that will expose students to the challenges and promise of American Indian health care, rural health care and the role of communities as leaders and problem solvers. Over the nine week winter quarter, students will be given reading assignments that pertain to American Indian culture, current research in Native American health and readings in the methods and practice of community based participatory research. Additionally, each week, a guest lecturer will present on a topic of related importance such as community based research, health disparities, cultural competence and Lakota culture systems. Time will also be allotted to allow the students to formulate a plan for communicating with and engaging the community partners we will be working with in South Dakota. Furthermore, students will have an opportunity to set personal and team goals and timelines regarding potential community projects.
The second portion of the course will be a one-week trip to western South Dakota with the assistance of the following community partners: Indian Health Services, Habitat for Humanity, Sinte Gleska University, Wiconi Wakan Suicide Prevention Center and Buffalo Jump Youth Center. By meeting and working with these partners, students will have the opportunity to spend time with clinicians, public health nurses, and dynamic community leaders in addition to directly addressing the social determinants of health through direct service projects.