Experiential Learning Through Participatory Action Research in Public Health Supports Community-Based Training of Future Health Professionals

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Abstract

Engaging community members in research can help cultivate effective partnerships while providing experiential training and continuing education opportunities. Several studies have involved communities in this way, though many have been small in the scale of community involvement or have included little detail of the institutional review board process by which community members became approved researchers in the study. This article presents findings on an evaluation of the training procedures and experiences of 703 first-time community-based volunteer researchers who were recruited in their communities and trained on-site to enroll research participants, collect data, and provide individualized consultation of results at travelling health education and research fairs. Open-ended registration prompts and postfair surveys assessed volunteers’ reasons for participating, comfort with their volunteer experiences, and attitudes toward the biomedical research process. An open-ended survey assessed two key community partners’ perspectives about their organizations’ involvement with supporting the research throughout the process. Volunteers reported their experience to be a unique training opportunity, citing its ability to help them engage with their community, advance research, and obtain additional experience in their health field of interest, particularly nursing, allied health, and medicine-related careers. Community partners cited that their community’s participation as volunteer researchers served as a tool to educate the larger community about research, which enabled other research projects to gain acceptance. Together, these results demonstrate that using volunteer researchers can strengthen community research partnerships while providing valuable training experience in public health research for current and aspiring health personnel.

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