The purposes of this study were to identify and analyze the commonalities that existed among established international service-learning programs within physical therapist education programs in terms of structures (conditions, consequences) and processes (action/interaction) and to develop a conceptual model of optimal international service-learning within physical therapist education programs. Using the qualitative research methodology of grounded theory, a descriptive exploratory study was completed.
Phone interviews were completed with 14 faculty who had been involved in international service, international learning, and/or international service-learning in physical therapist education programs in the United States. Participants represented public, faith-affiliated, and non-faith affiliated private universities from all U.S. geographic regions.
Using data from the eight programs that met the operational definition of established international service-learning, commonalities were identified. Four major themes emerged from the data: structure, reciprocity, relationship, and sustainability. The commonalities compared favorably with the principles of good practice found in the international service-learning literature, including: reciprocity, learning, service, connection between studies and learning, student leadership, reflection, and support services.
A conceptual model of and a proposed definition for optimal international service-learning in physical therapist education were developed. The essential core conditions of the model are the faculty member, community partner, students, structure, reciprocity, relationship, and sustainability. Five essential phases are: development, design, implementation, evaluation, and enhancement. Seven essential components of the phases are: a partner that understands the role of physical therapy, community-identified needs, explicit service and learning objectives, reflection, preparation, risk management, and service and learning outcome measures. Essential consequences are positive effects on students and community.
The significance of the study is that it is the first study to examine the phenomenon of international service-learning in physical therapist education in depth and breadth. The conceptual model can be employed to guide development of new international service-learning programs in physical therapist education and to improve existing ones, and it provides the foundation for the direction and content of future qualitative and quantitative investigations.