Your MSW Field Education: Benefits and Why It Should Matter To You
Field education, also referred to as practicum, fieldwork or field experience, is the hands-on training portion of your graduate program. It’s also a vital part of gaining firsthand experience in the field, along with a better sense of the career opportunities in social work and the current job market. During a Master’s in Social Work (MSW), students must complete a field education requirement.
Fieldwork is an essential degree requirement for social workers pursuing clinical or advanced career options. Students become prepared to enter the social work sector through the integration of theoretical material learned in the classroom and carefully guided fieldwork.
Benefits of Your MSW Fieldwork
Practicing social work skills in the field has been shown to lead to greater learning outcomes and higher satisfaction for students. Research published in the September, 2015 Clinical Social Work Journal found that: “The ability of social work education to graduate ethical, competent, innovative, effective clinical social workers is highly dependent on the quality of their field experience.”
Both students and alumni considered their experiences in the field to be “most significant” in preparing them for their future roles in practice. The field practicum presents an experiential opportunity to put lessons into practice and gain first-hand understanding of real, raw and unedited case work.
The right internship can easily lead to a full-time position once a student has completed their social work degree, allowing them to kick-start their career.
What Types of Field Education Is Available?
Opportunities for field education can range from policy planning and research to advocacy and outreach, and can take place in settings as varied as neighborhood centers, treatment centers, clinics, hospitals or homeless shelters. Some of the many ways students can make a valuable contribution through their fieldwork includes writing grants for not-for-profits, assisting with community development projects, shadowing clinical case workers or helping underprivileged children or veterans.
Some students may find fieldwork opportunities in a neighborhood center, with responsibilities ranging from client intake and data records to coordinating food distribution programs or finding workshops, activities and resources for community groups in need.
Other students may pursue education and elementary counseling, where activities might include helping students who struggle in a traditional learning environment, finding a placement where they can help supervise, engage and support students.
Other placements might include:
- School social work
- Victim’s advocacy
- Mental Health
- Children’s Issues
- Substance abuse
- Traumatic Brian Injury
- Developmental disabilities
- Domestic violence
- Nursing homes
- Aging services
How to Get the Most Out of Your Field Study
Here are some tips you can use to make the most of your fieldwork experience.
- Build a good student–supervisor relationship
Having a strong relationship with an on-site supervisor has been associated with greater learning satisfaction in social work interns. Practicing social work can be challenging, even for veteran social workers. Field liaisons, instructors, and faculty members can provide invaluable support not only during an internship, but also in the future. Also, they may well be the people a prospective employer contacts for a reference in the future.
- Be curious and ask questions
Always be willing to ask plenty of questions. People working at field placements are typically more than happy to share their professional expertise, and students frequently find they can learn just as much from clients and consumers of services as well.
- Try out new skills
Field placements are an opportunity to apply knowledge in a practical setting where there’s plenty of support available from more experienced and supervising practitioners.
- Build lasting connections
Like any internship, this placement is the first step in a lifetime of building and maintaining professional contacts that can provide support, knowledge, and collaboration throughout an entire career. Interns are likely to be meeting not only future colleagues, but also employers. Making introductions and leaving a great impression is an excellent foundation for establishing a social work career.
Start your journey today by exploring online accredited MSW degrees.