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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 27  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 78-82

Engagement studios: Students and communities working to address the determinants of health

1 Associate Principal, College of Health Disciplines, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada
2 Director, Community Development, Community Learning Initiative, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada
3 Lead Faculty, Global Health Network, Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada
4 Advisor-Community Development, Community Learning Initiative, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada
5 Project Manager, College of Health Disciplines, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada

Date of Web Publication11-Jun-2014

Correspondence Address:
Victoria Wood
Project Manager, College of Health Disciplines, University of British Columbia, 400-2194 Health Sciences Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3
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Source of Support: University of British Columbia Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund,, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1357-6283.134330


Background: This article presents an innovative model for interprofessional community-oriented learning. The Engagement Studios model involves a partnership between community organizations and students as equal partners in conversations and activities aimed at addressing issues of common concern as they relate to the social determinants of health. Methods: Interprofessional teams of students from health and non-health disciplines work with community partners to identify priority community issues and explore potential solutions. Results: The student teams work with a particular community organization, combining their unique disciplinary perspectives to develop a project proposal, which addresses the community issues that have been jointly identified. Approved proposals receive a small budget to implement the project. Discussion: In this paper we present the Engagement Studios model and share lessons learned from a pilot of this educational initiative.

Keywords: Community service learning, interprofessional education, community engagement

How to cite this article:
Bainbridge L, Grossman S, Dharamsi S, Porter J, Wood V. Engagement studios: Students and communities working to address the determinants of health. Educ Health 2014;27:78-82

How to cite this URL:
Bainbridge L, Grossman S, Dharamsi S, Porter J, Wood V. Engagement studios: Students and communities working to address the determinants of health. Educ Health [serial online] 2014 [cited 2022 Jan 25];27:78-82. Available from:

  Background Top

This article presents a new and innovative model for interprofessional community service learning. The Engagement Studios approach, developed by the College of Health Disciplines and Community Learning Initiative at the University of British Columbia (UBC-CLI), allows students from different disciplines to work with community partners as an interprofessional team. The goal of the Engagement Studios is for students to engage in interprofessional education (IPE) that facilitates learning about the social determinants of health and explore strategies that will enhance the overall health and well-being of society. Through the Engagement Studios, student teams work together deeply and authentically, combining their unique disciplinary perspectives in the co-creation of solutions to complex community-identified challenges.

The College of Health Disciplines at UBC is a unit dedicated to the advancement of IPE and collaboration. IPE occurs when "students from two or more professions learn about, from and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes". [1] The College has over 10 years of experience developing interprofessional learning opportunities that prepare students for practice. The Engagement Studios have been informed by the experience of the College and by a growing body of literature in the area of IPE. Knowledge in this area suggests that interprofessional learning is most effective when activities are based in students' future practice. [2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7] In 2010, the College developed a framework entitled the "UBC Model of Interprofessional Education", which looked at how the development of professional identity is dependent upon student interactions with the surrounding world. [8] According to the World Health Organization (WHO), interprofessional collaboration between health and non-health sectors is important in addressing the broader determinants of health. [1] The determinants of health include the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. [9] The environment in which students are trained can profoundly influence their professional development and understanding of the social determinants affecting the communities they will serve. [8] The precursor to the Engagement Studios initiative was a project called the Parisian Salons, [10] which facilitated campus-centered dialogue sessions among diverse groups of students about local and global issues related to health. The Engagement Studios were conceptualized as a way to move these discussions into the community and into action, through which students would be able to engage with the community in which they will practice, develop an understanding of the social determinants of health affecting that community, and see the different disciplinary contributions required to address those determinants.

The UBC-CLI provides leadership in engaging students, faculty, staff and community to build their capacity to collaborate toward the resolution of complex community-based challenges by supporting student participation in community-based experiential learning. A partnership between the College of Health Disciplines and the UBC-CLI facilitated the development of this unique interprofessional community service learning experience.

We believe the Engagement Studios model has the potential to enhance learning by providing students with meaningful opportunities to participate actively and authentically with community partners. By working with interprofessional student teams, community organizations can gain valuable and innovative ideas, which when combined with community initiated perspectives, can lead to sustainable solutions to complex community-based challenges. This paper presents the Engagement Studios model and shares lessons learned from a pilot of this interprofessional, community-oriented educational initiative.

The Engagement Studio Model

The Engagement Studios aim to provide students with an opportunity to work closely as part of an interprofessional team with community partners, such as non-profit organizations, for-profit groups and public schools. Using a community service learning framework, we created a way for community organizations to work together with students toward mutually beneficial outcomes. The objective of this approach is to enable students to grapple with questions of power, marginalization, social location and the student's future role in society. The Engagement Studios model brings together different disciplines to work alongside community-based organizations and address social determinants from multiple perspectives. Through this experience, students and community partners co-create possible solutions.

The Engagement Studios are framed around a series of three dialogue sessions, each 2 h in length. Students work as an interprofessional team between each session with their community partner to develop a project plan that will address community priorities.

  Methods Top

We piloted this model between October 2012 and January 2013 as an extra-curricular IPE activity. Eleven students from the following disciplines took part: Nursing (5), pharmacy (1), occupational therapy (2), dentistry (1), biochemistry (1) and public health (1). The objective of the pilot was to evaluate the effectiveness of the model as a community-based interprofessional learning experience. Our goal was to get feedback on the format of the model, the interprofessional approach, what students learned and how community partners received the model. Three community-based organizations worked with three interprofessional student teams. Each organization had a different focus: One focused on people with developmental disabilities, one focused on research related to social justice issues and one focused on the needs of children and families in a low-income neighborhood.

At the end of the last session [Table 1], students and community partners were asked to complete a paper-based descriptive survey. Two of the three participating community partners completed and returned the survey as did 6 of the 11 students. The survey queried the perceived benefits and positive aspects of the experience from both student and community partner perspectives, how well students and communities partners felt the Engagement Studios model worked, what they each learned and what they each felt could be improved in the future.
Table 1: The engagement studios model

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The community partner survey included 10 open-ended questions developed to solicit feedback about their overall experience, the project model, the administrative process for partner and student selection, their experiences working with an interdisciplinary team of students, and what value, if any, this brought to their organization. The student survey included 9 Likert scale questions about their individual learning outcomes. It also included seven open-ended questions that asked students to speak to the reason they volunteered for the project, their overall experience-what was good and what needed improvement, and the administrative details such as the recruitment process. A thematic analysis of the data was conducted by two researchers who then met to compare the themes identified.

This evaluation was not submitted for human subjects review because ethics approval is not required for UBC program evaluations.

  Results Top

A thematic analysis of the survey data identified themes in four key areas: The format of the Engagement Studios, the interprofessional approach, learning outcomes and benefits to community partners.

The Format

Student surveys suggested that "the first [session] was very necessary to get to know each project a bit, the second was helpful to have the chance to get and give feedback and the third also good because it was nice to see the final proposal" (student participant). One student said they "appreciated the chance to meet with the other groups and get a bit of experience in watching a proposal and thinking critically about good feedback to give-and hearing feedback others gave to the group including the one [they were] part of." When asked, all student and community participants indicated that they did not feel the time commitment was too onerous. Community partners felt the time commitment was "sufficient as students did the heavy lifting" (community partner).

Responses to the open-ended questions provided some suggestions for improvement. While participants felt that the time commitment for the Engagement Studios was reasonable, they would have liked to have expectations pertaining to the time commitment made clearer prior to their participation. One student wrote, "I was not really clear on what was expected-I know that at least a couple other students had the same experience. I did not realize that it was such a large time commitment in terms of being required to come to two more sessions and meeting several times outside of these meetings, and working independently on the project. I am, however, glad that I participated!"

Students felt that the timing and location of the Engagement Studios could also be improved. Several participants noted that it was challenging to work on their projects in preparation for the final session over the December semester break. The sessions were held in the early evening in a building on campus that was not particularly close to where participating students' classes are held. Participants felt this made it difficult for them to arrive on time after class, and they would have preferred a more convenient location. Community partners were happy to come to campus and did not feel the need to hold the sessions in the community.

The Interprofessional Approach

According to the open-ended survey questions, students were attracted to this learning experience both as an opportunity to work with students from other disciplines and as an opportunity to make a contribution to the community. Students "enjoyed having the opportunity to work with other students and with a community partner" (student participant). According to one participant, their "intention from the start was to learn the collaboration process and be able to address the needs of a community partner…To this end, [their] expectations were met". Student participants liked "working with students from other disciplines and having the opportunity to work with a community partner-getting to know what they do in the community and having the chance to contribute to something that actually matters." Students appreciated having a real life problem to address, creating something and then having the chance to implement it.

Learning Outcomes

Students were asked to rate statements related to their learning outcomes on a 5-point scale (strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree and strongly disagree). All student respondents 'agreed' or 'strongly agreed' that the Engagement Studios (1) made them more aware of the social determinants of health, (2) helped them recognize that they can make a valued contribution toward the resolution of community priorities, (3) made them feel more connected to their community, (4) taught them about the value of collaboration and working with other disciplines in the resolution of community priorities, (5) allowed them to identify ways in which their academic learning could be used to address community issues, (6) taught them how to effectively approach and solve problems as an interdisciplinary team, (7) helped them develop skills to effectively work as an interdisciplinary team and (8) changed the way they will engage with community upon graduation.

Benefits to Communities

Community partners appreciated the opportunity to work with students. They liked "watching the students take a gem of an idea and seeing it expand and take shape under their direction" (community partner). They felt this opportunity exemplified "the practical application of education for the benefit of the larger community" (community partner). According to one community partner, "the students were great…they came with ideas, listened to feedback, adapted plans as necessary and had a lot of enthusiasm". We asked our community partners if they would be willing and able to participate in the Engagement Studios and move forward with the projects if no funding was available. One community partner said that this was "not a huge deal maker/breaker. It is more the students and their involvement which was the factor which made the key difference". For another organization, "this project could have proceeded without funding" (community partner). Finally, ensuring relevance of community partners appears to be crucial. Both students and community organizations suggested that participating organizations should work directly with community members, in order to facilitate learning focused on the social determinants of health. One of the participating organizations focused on research. They did not provide services directly to a particular community. This community partner "wonder[ed] if a client-based partner would be better".

  Discussion Top

Feedback from students and communities is key to ensuring the on-going development, refinement and evaluation of the Engagement Studios. While the pilot only included a small group of students, survey data suggests that the Engagement Studios model is an effective model for (1) enabling students to learn about, with, and from other disciplines, (2) engaging community partners in authentic learning relationships with students, (3) facilitating meaningful learning by students about community issues and community engagement, (4) fostering university-community partnerships and (5) addressing community priorities identified by the communities themselves.

Community partners valued participating in the Engagement Studios and were keen to stay involved. However, engaging students from a number of disciplines presented many of the challenges inherent in any IPE activity such as curricula that are already full, location and finding common timing. [11],[12] The Engagement Studios pilot was delivered as an extra-curricular activity that required a substantial time commitment. While student participants indicated that this time commitment was not too onerous, it will be important to integrate the Engagement Studios into the formal curricula in order to ensure full engagement and sustainability. [8]

As we work to integrate the Engagement Studios into the curricula of the health and human service programs at UBC, the findings from this study have enabled us to demonstrate the effectiveness of the model as an interprofessional learning experience. The primary strength of the model is that it gives students an opportunity to address real life issues as an interprofessional team. [2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7] Together, students and community partners co-identified key priorities that they wanted to work together to address. They were able to look at ways to bring together the expert knowledge and passion of students and the wisdom of community. Students had to consider the resources the organization would need to implement their projects and identify who they would need to partner with on campus and out in the community. They were encouraged to collaborate with students from other disciplinary backgrounds in order to share expertise and capitalize on the unique knowledge and skills each has to offer. Ideally, upon graduation, students who participate in the Engagement Studios will be better prepared to contribute to the overall health and well-being of society as a result of their increased knowledge of the sometimes unseen challenges faced by citizens seeking adequate health and wellness. The Engagement Studios have the potential to provide students with a transformative learning experience during which they may start to reframe their world-view by incorporating new knowledge and skills. We continue to work with the health and human service programs at UBC to integrate the Studios into the formal curricula. During a subsequent pilot of the model, a number of students will be required to participate as part of a uni-disciplinary community service learning course. The model will add an interprofessional component to the course.

This evaluation of the Engagement Studios is limited by a number of factors. We had a small number of participants who were self-selected into this extra-curricular interprofessional activity. Further, evaluation of the learning outcomes involved self-assessment. However, this evaluation has enabled us to gain insight into the strengths of the model.

  Conclusion Top

The Engagement Studios present an innovative interprofessional community-oriented education model. They engage university, community and students as equal partners coming together to address issues of common concern related to the health and wellbeing of diverse communities. Further assessment of the impact of the program on students and communities will be conducted. We plan to collect additional feedback from pilot student participants after they have implemented their projects and then again one year after their participation, to find out how this learning experience has changed the way they interact with communities in the longer term. We also want to know about the longer term impact of student involvement through the Engagement Studios model on communities. We will continue to deliver the Engagement Studios and evaluate them as both a curricular and extra-curricular model for interprofessional, community-based education.

  Acknowledgments Top

This project received funding from the University of British Columbia Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund.

  References Top

1.World Health Organization. Framework for Action on Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice. Health Professions Network Nursing and Midwifery Office within the Department of Human Resources for Health; 2010. Available from: [Last Accessed on May 3, 2011].  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Barr H, Koppel I, Reeves S, Hammick M, Freeth DS. Effective interprofessional education: Argument, assumption and evidence (Promoting Partnership for Health). John Wiley & Sons, 2008.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Cooper H, Carlisle C, Gibbs T, Watkins C. Developing an evidence base for interdisciplinary learning: A systematic review. J Adv Nurs 2001;35:228-37.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Hammick M, Freeth D, Koppel I, Reeves S, Barr H. A best evidence systematic review of interprofessional education. Med Teach 2007;29:735-51.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Reeves S. Community-based interprofessional education for medical, nursing and dental students. Health Soc Care Community 2001;8:269-76.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Reeves S, Goldman J, Sawatzky-Girling B, Burton A. (Knowledge transfer and exchange in interprofessional education: Synthesizing the evidence to foster evidence-based decision-making. Vancouver, Canadian Interprofessional Health Collaborative, 2008.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Reeves S, Zwarenstein M, Goldman J, Barr H, Freeth D, Hammick M, et al. Interprofessional education: Effects on professional practice and health care outcomes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;1:CD002213.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Charles G, Bainbridge L, Gilbert J. The University of British Columbia (UBC) Model of Interprofessional Education. J Interprof Care 2010;24:9-18.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Mikkonen J, Raphael D. Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. York University, 2010. Available from: [Last Accessed on May 3, 2011].  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Bainbridge L, Dharamsi S, Wood V. A Parisian-style salon addressing social determinants of health. Med Educ 2012;46:520-1.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.D′eon M. A blueprint for interprofessional learning. J Interprof Care 2005;19 Suppl 1:49-59.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Oandasan I, Reeves S. Key elements for interprofessional education. Part 1: The learner, the educator and the learning context. J Interprof Care 2005;19 Suppl 1:21-38.  Back to cited text no. 12


  [Table 1]

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