The Value of Field Placements in Collaborative Care

April 3, 2023

Field placements are a core component of social work education providing critical direct clinical experience and skill building. The ability of a student to have a successful field placement gives them the critical elements that will not only help determine their success in the field but their ability to be well prepared. A setting that includes direct patient care, clinical supervision, ability to utilize technology such as electronic health records and registries along with evidence-based practices is ideal. Few can incorporate all of these components into a placement. An organization that has adopted Collaborative care presents an optimal placement for students to gain the core skills and knowledge required. Collaborative care is an evidence-based model to identify and treat patients with depression and anxiety in healthcare settings.

Collaborative care provides the gold standard of what a field placement should be, as collaborative care provides students with hands-on experience applying theory to practice under the guidance of licensed clinicians. Field placements in collaborative care offer students direct patient care experience, 1:1 clinical supervision, experience working with diverse populations with a range of presenting problems, and a variety of learning activities relevant to the 9 core social work competencies identified by the Council on Social Work Education. The Council on Social Work Education defines a set of competencies all students are expected to achieve upon the completion of their graduate program. Competency-based learning is an approach to education that focuses on developing the knowledge and skills necessary for students to enter the field. Students collaborate with their field instructors, who are licensed clinical social workers certified in field instruction, to create comprehensive learning plans detailing learning goals for the year and corresponding activities that will provide the opportunity for the student to achieve these competencies through practice. 


“My internship in collaborative care provided me with direct patient care opportunities as well as training in documentation and an understanding of electronic medical records. Being in communication with both primary care providers and psychiatry consultants showed me how to professionally communicate and present my clients and proved the power of a collaborative approach. This internship taught me a different model of care that has the ability to help a wide range of people who might otherwise not have engaged in behavioral healthcare.”
-    Adelphi University, MSW Specialization Year Intern


Collaborative care offers valuable hands-on experience to both generalist and specialization-year students. Generalist-year field placements equip students with the foundational skills necessary to further their social work education. Specialization year placements provide robust clinical experiences that prepare students to competently enter the field. In a collaborative care placement, students in their generalist year engage in social determinants of health assessments, resource management, community referrals, and patient engagement, and assist with registry management through outreach skills and the use of evidence-based survey tools. Students in their specialization year function in a role like that of the collaborative care clinician, providing evidence-based interventions to patients referred by their primary care provider for behavioral health treatment. Each of these learning activities correlates with core social work competencies, including engaging, assessing, and intervening with individuals, engaging in the research-informed practice, and developing professional and ethical behavior. Through direct practice, ongoing training, and the use of clinical supervision, students develop the skills to effectively build rapport and engage patients in care, complete comprehensive assessments, identify relevant information gathered in the assessment interview to inform interventions, create individualized treatment plans unique to a patient’s goals and presenting problems, and adapt interventions as appropriate to meet the unique needs of an individual. In these settings, students are trained in modalities that are proven to be effective within this model of care, including problem-solving treatment, motivational interviewing, suicide safer care, and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Students are trained to utilize evidence-based survey tools including the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 to monitor symptoms and outcomes, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and adapt treatment plans accordingly. The collaborative care model also provides the opportunity to serve as a key member of an interdisciplinary team, learning the importance of interprofessional collaboration, alongside the primary care physician and the psychiatric consultant. 

In summary, collaborative care provides an excellent field placement opportunity for social work students - one that provides the necessary resources and supports for students to feel competent in their skill sets as they prepare to enter the field. The collaborative care model is filled with learning opportunities that address the complex learning needs of MSW students, along with training and field instruction under licensed clinicians.