Experiential Learning: Transforming Theory into Practice through the Parkinson’s Disease Buddy Program

Denise M. Cumberland*, Susan Sawning, Megan Church-Nally, Monica Ann Shaw, Erika Branch, Kathrin LaFaver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Problem: Persons over age 65 constitute a large proportion of patients presenting for healthcare services; therefore, physicians must be prepared to provide care to patients that face degenerative neurological diseases. Medical students can have difficulty identifying and caring for older patients with neurological difficulties, and often perceive neurology to be a challenging specialty. Medical education service-learning programming that engages community members and medical students, while fostering specialized neurology training, may help improve care for this patient population. Intervention: We developed the Parkinson’s Disease Buddy Program for first year medical students (M1s), which involved pairing students with patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) to engage in a social relationship. Students attended monthly seminars covering a range of topics specific to PD patient care and met with their PD buddies throughout the year. A mixed-methods approach was used to evaluate the program and involved pre/post assessments, as well as focus groups with both students and patients. Context: The University of Louisville’s School of Medicine and College of Education implemented this volunteer service-learning program for students by partnering with a locally based nonprofit, dedicated to serving PD patients. A total of 70 (35 M1s and 35 PD patients) participated. Outcome: Students’ total correct PD knowledge scores significantly increased after participation with a large effect size (pre-test mean = 14.77, [SD = 2.57]; post-test mean = 19.69 [SD = 2.06], Cohen’s d = 1.64) and a paired t-test indicated a significant change in students’ Parkinson’s Attitude Scale scores (t (34) = 2.22, p <.05). Ninety-one percent of students (31) indicated they would recommend the program and 82% (29) indicated they would participate again. During focus groups, students reflected on the relationships they formed with their buddies, indicating the program provided a support system while helping them learn about PD. Patients indicated the program expanded their social circle and meetings with M1s were beneficial. Lessons Learned: An experiential learning opportunity can help medical students become better acquainted with patients living with a neurological disease. We identified an impact on PD patients’ self-efficacy and social behavior that was not originally expected. We learned the importance of incorporating active learning modalities such as PD buddy panels and peer-to peer group discussions. The resources required to implement programs like ours can be lightened by engaging with local community partners and collaborating within and outside departments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-465
Number of pages13
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 8 2019


  • experiential learning
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • service learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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