|Year : 2014 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 208-212
Student-reported satisfaction with academic enhancement services at an academic health science center
Natalie White Gaughf1, Penni Smith Foster1, Dara A Williams2
1 Academic Affairs, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, Mississippi, USA
2 Department of Family Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, Mississippi, USA
|Date of Web Publication||31-Oct-2014|
Penni Smith Foster
Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University of Mississippi Medical Center, 2500 North State Street, Jackson, MS 39216
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Background: Although support services are needed to address students' concerns associated with academic demands, there is little research exploring these interventions within health sciences education. The current study examined students' perceptions of academic enhancement services at an academic health science center. Methods: Academic enhancement services provided to students included assessment of learning approaches and problems interfering with academic performance. Specific services may have addressed the transition to professional school, study skills assessment and training, time management and organization, testing strategies, clarifying career goals and interests, increasing self-confidence and coping with self-doubt, coping with depression and/or anxiety, stress management, relationship issues, and/or loss and bereavement. All students receiving academic enhancement services received a survey for programmatic improvement at the end of each semester. The online survey was voluntary and anonymous and solicited feedback about the students' experiences. Results: Sixty-three percent of respondents (N = 104; 62% female, 38% male; 62% White, 27% Black/African American, 10% Asian; 2% Hispanic) reported receiving a one-session intervention, while 34% received 2-6 sessions. Eighty-three percent of respondents reported that academic enhancement services improved their situation and 89% reported overall satisfaction. The individual services rated as most helpful addressed time management, study skills training, increasing self-confidence, and testing strategies. Discussion: It is recommended that health science centers (i) consider providing brief-term academic enhancement services to students addressing time management/organization, study skills, self-confidence, and testing strategies and (ii) engage in empirical investigations of these academic interventions.
Keywords: Academic support, academic counseling, health sciences education, study skills
|How to cite this article:|
Gaughf NW, Foster PS, Williams DA. Student-reported satisfaction with academic enhancement services at an academic health science center. Educ Health 2014;27:208-12
| Background|| |
Academic health science students are presented with many hurdles that have the potential to impact their ability to learn. Mastering large amounts of scientific information, in addition to research and/or clinical practice responsibilities, can be distressing even for the most qualified students pursuing careers in the health sciences.  Studies suggest that medical education encompasses a unique set of challenges for students, including greater workload and higher expectations, which are often stressful and demanding.  According to the literature on medical education, educational challenges can vary as a direct result of the overabundance of individual stressors.  Specifically, research suggests that first-year medical students endorse emotional sources of stress while senior medical students report higher levels of academic stress.  The constant pressure to succeed can also be linked to impaired judgment, reduced concentration, poor academic performance, loss of self-esteem, and increased emotional instability among these students. 
Due to increased awareness of these concerns, many medical schools have acknowledged a responsibility to identify students with academic difficulties and provide some form of support service.  Similar findings have been found within other disciplines also located within the health sciences. A study conducted in 2005 found that emotional difficulties stemming from academic performance, time management, fear of failing, and study skills were common concerns reported by dental students. 
Despite the need for support services to assist students with concerns related to academic demands, , there is a lack of research specifically exploring academic interventions within the health sciences. The purpose of this study was to explore students' perceptions of academic enhancement services at an academic health science center. Results include information about the students who utilized the services and the characteristics of the interventions rated as most helpful.
Academic enhancement services are institutional support services available to all students on campus at no charge. An academic counselor meets individually with learners to evaluate current approaches to learning, assess problems interfering with academic performance and provide assistance with developing the skills that are essential to academic success and professional development. More specifically, these academic enhancement services may address the transition to professional school, study skills assessment and training, time management and organization, testing strategies, clarifying career goals and interests, increasing self-confidence and coping with self-doubt, coping with depression and/or anxiety, stress management, relationship issues, and/or loss and bereavement. Students may seek services on their own or be referred by an institutional official.
| Methods|| |
Surveys were distributed to 139 students enrolled in an academic health science center in the southeastern United States who had received at least one academic enhancement session. One hundred and four participants completed the survey, and 64 (62%) of respondents were female. The racial composition of respondents was: White = 64 (62%), Black/African American = 28 (27%), Asian = 10 (10%) and other = 2 (2%). The number of respondents from each discipline (i.e. School of Dentistry, School of Graduate Studies, School of Health Related Professions, School of Medicine, School of Nursing and School of Pharmacy) and other characteristics of the sample are presented in [Table 1].
|Table 1: Descriptive statistics for the sample of survey respondents (N=104)|
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A 10-item satisfaction survey was designed for programmatic improvement. The survey consisted of four demographic questions asking participants to provide their gender, ethnicity, race and discipline. The other six items addressed the participants' experiences and satisfaction with the academic enhancement services. Two of these were multiple-choice items that required participants to identify how many sessions were attended (i.e. "1," "2-6" or "More than 6") and the reason for receiving academic enhancement services (i.e. "Academic," "Career," "Personal" or "Other"). Three items utilized a 5-point Likert scale for participants to rate their satisfaction with various general services (e.g. "I was able to get an initial appointment in an acceptable amount of time"), the academic counselor (e.g. "The academic counselor listened and understood my concerns") and individual services that were provided (e.g. "Study skills assessment and training"). Individuals were also provided with an "N/A" response choice for these items, allowing them to indicate if their experience did not include that specific service. One item was an open-ended question soliciting voluntary comments (i.e. "Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your experience with Academic Counseling Services?").
At the end of each academic semester between January 2011 and August 2012, all students who had presented for at least one session of academic enhancement services during that semester received an email requesting feedback about their experiences. Students were provided with a link to an electronic survey that could be submitted anonymously via Zoomerang online survey software. Completion was voluntary, and students were not offered incentives. Because the intent of the survey was educational programmatic improvement, the effort did not meet the definition of research and institutional review board approval was not applicable.
Descriptive statistics were used to report frequencies and percentages [Table 1] and [Table 2]. Comparison between gender, race (White vs. non-White), discipline (medicine vs. non-medicine) and services (general and individual) was done using Fisher's exact test. Analysis was done using STATA 13.0.
|Table 2: Survey results indicating students' satisfaction with Academic Enhancement Services at an Academic Health Science Center (N=104)*|
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| Results|| |
Approximately 66 (63%) participants reported attending a single session of academic enhancement and 35 (34%) reported attending two to six sessions. Three respondents (3%) stated that they attended more than six sessions. When participants were allowed to choose one or more reasons for seeking services, 90 respondents (87%) described their reason as "academic," 31 (30%) as "personal," 7 (7%) as "career," and 2 (2%) as "other."
Participants' Likert ratings were combined to create three distinct categories: Disagree (strongly disagree, disagree), unsure, and agree (strongly agree, agree). Participants rated academic enhancement services as a necessary part of the institution (92% agree). Participants also reported that academic enhancement services improved their situation (83% agree), that they were satisfied with the services (89% agree), and that they would recommend the services to a friend/classmate/colleague (88% agree). The full results of participants' satisfaction ratings of general services are presented in [Table 2].
Participants' Likert ratings of the individual services provided during academic enhancement were combined to create three distinct categories: Unhelpful (very poor, unhelpful), adequate and helpful (very helpful, helpful). These can also be found in [Table 2]. The individual services that participants rated as most helpful were time management/organizational skills (83%), study skills assessment and training (80%), increasing self-confidence and coping with self-doubt (79%) and test-taking strategies (78%).
Qualitative Review of Narrative Comments
The narrative comments provided by participants were analyzed for qualitative purposes. Narrative comments were not mandatory for survey submission. Of the 104 respondents, 37 provided written comments to the question "Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your experience with Academic Counseling Services?" Of the comments provided, only five were void of useful content such as responses of "N/A" or "No." Almost all of the feedback provided was positive in nature (28/32), and an overwhelming majority of the feedback offered (22/32) was related explicitly to the services provided by the counselor. Generally, students reported that the counselor's level of concern, dedication, acceptance and genuineness helped to create an environment of comfort and trust where they could seek support for a variety of academic concerns. The remainder of the feedback provided by respondents focused on positive aspects of the program more generally. These individuals indicated that they found the services to be very helpful overall and that the skills they had been taught had proven to be vital to their academic success. Only three of the respondents described their experiences in a predominantly unfavorable light.
| Discussion|| |
The current study is a preliminary examination of students' perceptions of academic enhancement services at an academic health science center. Although most students indicated that their reasons for seeking services were academic, many students also sought services for personal and career reasons. Regardless of their motives, the present findings indicated that students' perceptions of academic enhancement services were overwhelmingly favorable. Students rated all aspects of the general services provided as positive, and 89% of respondents reported satisfaction with the services rendered. Eighty-three percent of respondents believed that their situation was improved.
With regard to individual interventions, students rated time management/organization skills and study skills training as the most helpful. Interventions related to increasing self-confidence/coping with self-doubt and test-taking strategies were also reported as useful by students, with over 78% of respondents rating each of these interventions as helpful. Although respondents also rated other types of services as helpful, these findings suggest that health science centers address time management, study skills, improving students' self-confidence and testing strategies when establishing academic support services for their students.
Interestingly, the provision of these services may be completed in a brief and time-efficient manner. Students overwhelmingly described academic counseling services as a positive experience, yet the majority of students (63%) reported receiving only one academic enhancement session. Approximately 34% of students stated that they received 2-6 academic enhancement sessions. This indicates that academic enhancement services are perceived by the student to be effective even when occurring in a relatively brief timeframe (i.e. between 1 and 6 sessions).
There are limitations of the current study that should be considered. The results are based on a small sample size from the southeastern United States with a higher utilization of services by medical students when compared with any other program of study. In addition, a single academic counselor provided services, and results may be related to the counselor's unique style. These factors limit the external validity of the results. The authors acknowledge that the academic enhancement services provided were tailored to the individual needs of the student and no systematic protocol was utilized for the intervention. Thus, the current study cannot be precisely replicated. However, replication of the study or conclusions about the interventions provided were not the intent of the authors. Instead, the present study was meant to evaluate students' perceptions of academic enhancement services and to foster discussion for future programs and research.
| Conclusions|| |
Current literature supports the need for student support services related to varying educational and psychosocial factors that can interfere with performance in academic settings. , Despite this understanding, the research is limited with regard to academic support services for students at health science centers. Given the growing numbers of students enrolling in health-related professional programs and evidence that students' academic maladjustment may often be unaddressed, , it is imperative that educators and training institutions provide resources to students to assist in academic success.
Findings from the current study indicate that students in the varied health disciplines have a positive view of academic enhancement services occurring over a limited number of sessions. Based on the present findings, it is recommended that academic health science centers consider providing brief-term academic enhancement services to students addressing time management/organization, study skills, self-confidence and testing strategies. It is also recommended that academic health science centers engage in empirical investigations of these supportive interventions in order to contribute to the literature for health science students and improve services provided to these students.
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[Table 1], [Table 2]