Next Generation Social Workers and the Importance of Field Placement
August 5, 2022
Field placement is an important part of social work education. It has been a constant in the educational lives of both graduate and undergraduate social work students. Future social workers can learn the art and science of the profession and how to practice within the code of ethics.
Students from all accredited schools of social work are placed in agencies, assigned an independent caseload and supervised by social workers with at least two years or more of practice experience. For many students, these are uncharted waters as they work with patients for the very first time. Others have been in ‘social work-like’ roles without the benefit of a professional education.
It is the partnership between the field agencies and professional schools of social work to onboard and prepares students for practicing in an agency setting while the student is simultaneously enrolled in the classroom. To forge this partnership, the schools of social work assign faculty liaisons to support the relationship between the school and the organization. The agency social work supervisor (i.e., field instructor) offers ways to synthesize classroom practice and agency practice to promote social work competency for the student.
Social workers will always remember their field placement agency experience. The two-year field placement experience is one of the most important experiences of their entire career. The quality and experience of that field placement are directly related to the success of the student and patient care post-graduation.
The impact of COVID-19
Since COVID-19, there has been a shortage of organizations willing and/or able to provide quality field placements for students. This was exacerbated by the transition to virtual or hybrid care models. While many schools transitioned to virtual learning, virtual field placements were much more difficult.
Since its inception almost six years ago, Concert Health, a virtual care provider prior to COVID-19, developed a strong field placement experience for social work interns. Concert Health developed this field placement experience in conjunction with several partner schools that were seeking quality placements for their students.
“It has been a pleasure to place graduate-level social work interns at Concert Health, under the guidance of Dr. Alissa Mallow. The forward-thinking approach to clinical care, at a time when there have been so many challenges, shows the professional and responsive care by Concert. Consequently, interns are able to engage in modalities that challenge them to think outside of the box and truly determine the quality of care.”
Ruth Gerritsen-McKane, PhD, LCSW, LICSW
Director MSW Field Education
Associate Professor of Social Work
Regis College, School of Social Work
Importance of continued support
Concert Health works with students to ascertain their learning needs, what they want to gain from a field placement and their perceptions of both virtual care and supervision. Concert Health found that while students might be initially hesitant about an entirely virtual experience, they soon reported feeling even more supported than prior in-person field placements. Concert Health's immediate availability and networking through tools like Slack, video sessions and weekly supervision meant students felt consistently supported. They also reported that the ability to have real-time video sessions with area managers, clinical supervisions and faculty gave them more access to support than they expected or had experienced in other settings.
“Initially, I was hesitant and skeptical about the ability to establish connections with peers and managers in a virtual environment. Some of the anticipated challenges involved the inability to walk down the hall to my supervisor’s office to ask a quick question, but Slack quickly became an adequate replacement for that.
The comfort and control I had with my working environment (which was just my living room) allowed me to focus more on developing clinical skills and build up a tolerance to some of the stress that comes with working as a future clinician. Clinical interactions that may have seemed daunting became more manageable when held in the context of my own home, which I loved. I really enjoyed interning at a virtual placement.” - Elsa Mullins
Concert Health continues to develop the virtual field experience in conjunction with its academic partners. Hopefully, shared learning, best practices and experiences will help to expand the provision of quality field placements in the new virtual care environment.