Service learning: Nursing students' civic engagement with diverse populations of children with special needs

Rahshida Atkins, Mary Ann Dugan, Tami Jakubowski, Tracy Perron, Deborah King, Madeline McSweeney, Vyacheslav Ivanof, Shanda Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: There is limited knowledge of nursing students' perspectives about engagement with special needs populations. The purpose of this study was to identify the advantages/benefits and disadvantages/challenges of nursing students' engagement experience with children with special mental and physical disabilities. Recommendations to enhance student engagement experiences were also provided. Methods: A descriptive, qualitative design was employed. Undergraduate nursing students (N = 28) responded to open-ended questions about their civic engagement experiences at a community-based, respite care program for children with special needs. Student accounts underwent directed content analysis, with coding, category and theme development according to the Theory of Planned Behavior. The Atlas.Ti computer program was used to manage the data. Results: Advantages/Benefits: Filling cognitive and experiential learning gaps, rewarding connections/relationships, positive emotions, perceptions and interactions, and fun and stress relief. Disadvantage/challenges: Managing negative/uncomfortable emotions and uncertainty, witnessing and managing disruptive behaviors, negative perceptions of program operations/expectations. Conclusions: Students experienced cognitive, emotional, interpersonal and educational advantages and/or disadvantages while engaging with this defined population. Practice implications: To enhance engagement faculty can provide education and anticipatory guidance, detail responsibilities and expectations, and/or utilize simulation for student preparation. Nurses and researchers can utilize community based participatory methods to guide discussions with community-based organizations to collaboratively develop strategies to institute, evaluate and enhance student engagement during service learning experiences with children who have special needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of pediatric nursing
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics


  • Civic engagement
  • Diversity
  • Health equity
  • Service learning
  • Special needs populations
  • Teaching strategies


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