Interdisciplinary Service-Learning Substance Abuse Projects: Processes and Outcomes
S. Lala Straussner, DSW, New York University.
Purpose: This paper describes the perceived outcomes of 10 service-learning field projects developed by 30 health professional faculty fellows of Project MAINSTREAM. The Fellows worked together for two years in 10 Interdisciplinary Faculty Learning Groups (IFLGs), which consisted of three academics of different disciplines. Methods: Utilizing a case study approach, each interdisciplinary faculty team was asked to address the following: 1. Purpose of field project, 2. Population served, 3. Process of implementation: a. Identification and buy-in by stakeholders, b. Actual implementation of project, c. Resources needed/provided to participants, d. Role of interdisciplinary team e. Obstacles encountered and how addressed; and 4. Outcomes and lessons learned. Results: The 10 Projects addressed a variety of community needs and populations ranging from children to primary health care trainees. They focused on a variety of substances, including alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and ranged from community-based prevention to improving substance abuse intervention and substance abuse education. They also employed a variety of levels of service learning; in some the IFLG fellows themselves were the service learners, while in others it was their trainees who were the actual providers of services. One of the most significant findings was related to the obstacles encountered by the IFLGS: Nine of the ten projects encountered obstacles that impacted on the final outcomes. Some were relatively minor, such as difficulty in scheduling meetings or training sessions, others were serious enough that the original goals either had to be abandoned or greatly abbreviated. All of the obstacles, and the efforts to address them, led to important lessons and implications for future. Implications for Policy or Practice: Among the implications for policy or practice identified by the various teams were: 1. The need for flexibility – predetermined ideas have to be modified once confronted by the reality of what is feasible and needed in the community. Communities have their own agendas and these may not mesh with what health professionals want to offer. 2. Identifying and obtaining the support of key stakeholders are critical to the successful implementation of a project. 3. The importance of ethnocultural awareness, including, where possible, ethnic matching, when trying to engage disadvantaged populations to address sensitive topics such as substance abuse. 4. The impact of one-time training projects is very limited. Sustainability takes time and effort; training or service projects need to be repeated and updated if they are to have any significant long-term impact. 5. National, state and local policy decisions have a highly significant impact on resources allocated for substance abuse programs and on the stability of workforce, whether at the community level or in academia.