The social work field placement is a core component of any accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program. This is your chance to bring together all the knowledge you’ve gained from your lectures, reading and assignments on your course, and use it in real-world applications. With the safety net of close supervision by an experienced social worker, you can try out your new skills with confidence while on your field placement. It is an ideal opportunity for practical training in real-life situations. The feedback you are given by your field instructors will further develop your abilities by identifying areas where you can improve your skills and building your confidence in your strengths.
Practical learning prepares you for the time when you will work independently and teaches you how to use your own judgment to assess clients and situations and choose appropriate interventions. You will develop specialized skills as you deal with different types of clients and populations. Putting theory into practice also reinforces learning, making it much easier to remember the theory when you come to sit your exams.
As part of choosing the university for your MSW studies, you should explore how much support is provided with setting up your field placement. The placement is a very important part of your degree program, as it can add highly relevant experience to your social work skillset and can help you with securing the next role you want in your career. Some schools will expect you to arrange your own placement. However, this can be a long and complex process, so it is preferable to find a university that will offer full support with securing a field placement for you. Finding a placement can be time-consuming, and you will be busy with studies and in many cases with work during that time, so it takes a big burden off your shoulders when the arrangements for the placement are done for you.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) sets a minimum number of field education hours that students must complete in order to gain a CSWE-accredited MSW degree. Currently, the requirement is for 900 hours of field experience. Some programs require students to complete two separate field placements, one in the first year of study and the other during the second year of the program. However, there are also programs available that combine the hours into a single field placement, such as the online MSW degree program from Florida State University.
Advanced Standing social work program
Under the Advanced Standing social work program, students are awarded credit for their Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. This means that part of the master’s program can be waived, thereby reducing the overall duration by around a year. Some MSW programs require students to complete at least two field placements, whereas the Advanced Standing degree program recognizes the field placement completed for the BSW degree and therefore requires only the one specialized field placement.
On the Advanced Standing MSW online from Florida State University, you will get all the support you need with arranging your field social worker placement. The placement coordinator will identify some suitable locations and arrange interviews for you to attend. Once a placement has been agreed upon, the placement coordinator will give you the support you need with forms that need to be completed ahead of the placement.
The Advanced Standing online MSW program is an online part-time program, enabling you to continue to work while you complete your studies over a two-year duration. Florida State University is CSWE-accredited, and the MSW program is open to students resident anywhere in the US who have a BSW degree from a CSWE-accredited university.
Importance of clinical placement on requirements for clinical licensure
If you wish to work in clinical social work, you will need to have accrued a specified number of postgraduate clinical contact hours. The number of hours varies by state, and some states will significantly increase the number of supervised contact hours required after graduating if the MSW field placement has not provided for sufficient clinical contact. For example, in Maine, the requirement for postgraduate clinical experience is doubled for licensure applicants who have not completed a field placement as part of their MSW program.
In addition to gaining an MSW qualification and completing the specified number of field placement hours, licensure applicants are also required to pass a standardized clinical exam in order to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Planning your placement
It is important to ensure that the organization where you will complete your fieldwork will be able to offer you the type of experience you are looking to gain from your placement. If you have a passion for a particular area of social work and have a career path in mind for when you graduate, you need to make sure that your field placement is aligned and will give you the experience you need to progress on that path.
Most students will have decided on their preferred area of social work specialization at this stage, whether clinical, direct or macro. Make sure that your placement coordinator understands the type of experience you are looking to gain so that you can make the most of your placement experience. Preparing a list of questions to ask at your placement interviews will help you to assess whether the organization is the right fit for you and your career goals.
Before you have your placement interview, take the time to do some research into the organization where you could be working. When you understand the mission and values of the organization and how it operates, you are more likely to be able to make a valued contribution during your time there, working in alignment with the overall goals of the organization. For example, if your placement is with a small non-profit organization, the mission may be quite different from what you would find in a large for-profit corporation.
How to approach your placement
How much responsibility is given to students?
Students work under close supervision from professionals in the agencies where they have been placed. Much of the time will be spent observing and assisting professional social workers. They may be given the opportunity to carry out some tasks independently, but this will depend on the setting and suitability. For example, a clinical social work student may be allowed to collect medical histories from clients and maintain client records. In some circumstances, they may be given the opportunity to provide counseling to clients. Under supervision on your placement, you will have the opportunity to learn how to assess patients, prepare treatment plans and conduct interventions.
Whether you plan to work in clinical or direct social work, you will have one-on-one interaction with clients. One of the key skills you will be able to put into practice as part of your placement is your communication skills. Learning how to handle clients who are agitated or angry is an important skill for your career in social work. Your placement gives you the chance to employ strategies for deescalating challenging interactions through listening, empathizing and establishing boundaries, with the security of having a supervisor present.
You are there to learn
Although you already have experience and will have learnt many relevant skills as part of your degree program, you are not expected to know everything. The placement is part of your training, and people around you will give you all the support you need to develop your skills further. Don’t be cautious about asking questions – the people working at your placement location will expect you to ask lots of questions. After all, asking questions is one of the quickest ways to learn, and that is what you are there to do.
As you are still learning, you can expect to receive feedback on areas where you could do things differently and improve your skills. The colleagues you are working with have more experience than you, so they have valuable advice and guidance to give. Being open to constructive advice gives you an opportunity to learn and improve. Field instructors will have previous experience of giving feedback on performance, so you can expect it to be handled in a professional manner. Instructors will share their own experiences of what works and doesn’t work in practice, and will have insights into their own areas of expertise and specialization. One of the benefits of working closely with a field instructor is having someone with you who can answer your questions as they arise and guide you in your decision-making when you are unsure of which course of action to take.
It is important to treat the placement with same level of professionalism as you would a regular job:
- Arrive for work on time.
- Be prepared.
- Be honest – if you don’t know how to do something, say so.
- Be respectful toward your colleagues, supervisor and other mentors.
- Be reliable – inform your supervisor if you are unable to attend (for example, due to sickness).
- Behave with integrity.
Make safety a priority
Safety is an important consideration in social work. By its very nature, social work will bring you into contact with people who have severe mental health issues, substance abuse problems and other disorders, and in some cases may display violent behaviors. It is essential for your own safety that you are familiar with the safety policies and procedures for the organization where you are completing your placement.
Be sure to discuss safety procedures with your field instructor so that you know what safety threats to be aware of and appropriate steps to follow if clients present a danger to you. You should not hesitate to raise safety concerns, as these are valid issues and without adequate safety procedures, you cannot perform your job properly. Your instructor will also be able to help you familiarize yourself with the locations where you will be working and advise you on higher-risk areas. It is good practice to carry out a risk assessment for all clients and in all settings.
Social work field placement opportunities
There are many different types of locations where you can do your social work placement. If you already have an idea of where you would like to continue your career after completion of your MSW degree, a placement in a related setting will give a head-start to your career plans. For example, if you wish to specialize in substance abuse counseling, you could apply to complete your social work field placement in a hospital or therapy center where drug and alcohol counseling is provided to clients. Settings where you can complete a field placement include:
- Hospital or healthcare facility
- Counseling center
- Human services organization
- Correctional facility
Examples of practical learning in a field placement
In a school setting, your placement could involve:
- Helping to conduct an assessment of a student for a special needs evaluation.
- Arranging groups on building coping strategies.
- Delivering one-on-one student counseling.
- Developing an anti-bullying campaign.
In a specialist veterans’ hospital, your placement could involve:
- Developing knowledge of how to help clients manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arising from combat.
- Identifying benefits available to veterans.
- Helping veterans access other support services.
Your in-field social worker placement is a great opportunity to put your newly acquired skills and knowledge into practice. It is also an ideal opportunity to expand your network. You may make connections and find mentors who you will be able to turn to for advice and support throughout your career. Once you have completed your social work field placement, you can update your resume to include details of your work experience and the new skills you have acquired and applied in real-world situations. Highlight work elements that you have been given the opportunity to complete yourself as well as areas where you have developed knowledge from shadowing your instructor.
Your field placement will boost your confidence in your abilities and enhance your readiness for progression to the next phase of your social work career.