Shoulder to Shoulder Global: A Service Abroad Program at UK

As one of the main service abroad programs at the University of Kentucky, Shoulder to Shoulder Global offers students a unique transformative experience to use their skills on health-based brigades that help an underserved community in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. More students at UK continue to get involved with STSG because it offers an inter-professional, educational, cultural and service-learning experience abroad.  


STSG Program Coordinator Craig Borie said he knows that service abroad programs benefit students in so many ways because it gives them the opportunity to learn a global perspective and how to work in a multicultural interprofessional setting.


"Students learn the importance of listening to patients and to communities, which not only fosters a human connection, but helps the student to become a more effective professional," Borie said.


On the STSG brigades, students also receive the experience to serve others and learn how to give back to communities in need


The Colleges of Dentistry, Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health promote the service abroad program to their students. The STSG brigades are very popular among healthcare students since they do not have as many opportunities to study abroad because of their demanding semester schedules.


STSG recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary last May, and every year the program continues to expand. A record number of students from healthcare and non-healthcare colleges have applied to participate on one of the 2018 STSG brigades Borie said.


The interprofessional aspect of the program serves as just one of the main aspects that continues to increase student interest and participation.


"On the brigade, students benefit from learning to work effectively in an interprofessional team, important when specialty training and interconnectedness between professions is becoming more and more common," Borie said.


Along with the interprofessional aspect, the educational and cultural aspects of the program have drawn more and more students to participate on the brigades. Borie explained that students really enjoy getting a unique, transformative experience to practice what they've learned in classes out in the real world.


Third-year physical therapy student Felicity Britt participated in the STSG brigade in May this year, where she was able to learn more about her major and how she can use it to make an impact.


"I went on the STSG brigade to further my education while also using my knowledge and skills to help serve those who need it the most," said Britt. "The brigade in Ecuador gave me the chance to learn things that I could never learn in the classroom and I learned more things about culture, service, physical therapy, interprofessional care and even things about myself."


The service-learning experience also has been one of the most important factors that draws student participants every year to want to find their passions for serving others.


College of Nursing student Mia Jackson went on the STSG May brigade last year. Jackson was able to discover her passion for serving children and possibly pediatrics during the brigade.


"I didn't know what type of specialty nurse I wanted to be, but when I went to Ecuador I connected with a lot of children," said Jackson. "Being with them on the brigade helped me realized that kids are my specialty and who I want to serve."


Students at UK have formed a greater desire to serve others through their abilities and skills, which is what has made STSG so popular among them over the years and what continues to keep them coming back.


"Serving the underserved abroad can foster serving those locally," said Borie. "Once a student realizes that he or she can help and that the help is valued, in whichever way that may be, the desire to create positive change has impacts that we have yet to fully understand. "