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Social work students gain experiential learning opportunities in healthcare settings

By Nazeefa Ahmed, August 9 2023—

This year, Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) students had the opportunity to pursue healthcare practicums under a partnership between the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and MacEwan University. Students participating in the pilot program rotated through multiple hospital units in three-week intervals to gain a variety of experiences working with patients and healthcare professionals. 

Social workers are the largest group of mental health workers in Canada and the Canadian government expects that 27,000 social workers will be needed by 2028.

In an interview with the Gauntlet, practicum development specialist Stephanie Grant emphasizes the importance of field education for social work students, particularly in healthcare settings.

“We have a lot of students that are really interested in health care,” said Grant. “Alberta Health Services is really in need of social workers and our students are their future employees. We wanted to make sure we’re creating meaningful learning opportunities for our students to learn.”

BSW students have expressed the benefits of the program, from providing a place to apply classroom learning, to a collaborative environment where U of C students can engage with students from other institutions. 

“I have heard from the students that it was a really meaningful learning opportunity for them that they were able to integrate what they were practicing in their experiential learning opportunity into the theory that they’ve been learning in the classrooms,“ said Grant. “More student feedback was that the collaborative nature of having the MacEwan University students and the U of C students working together and learning together throughout the practicum was really important to the process.”

For two decades, social work field education has been in a crisis due to the rise of neoliberalism and limited funding. Therefore, students have been struggling to find meaningful practicum opportunities. Grant described the crisis in field education in healthcare settings is due to mentorship limitations. 

“Social workers currently working have huge caseloads and supervising a student can sometimes be challenging,” said Grant. “They need to make sure that they are spending time with students to help them grow and develop. It can be challenging, I think, for social workers in the field to be able to justify taking that time away from the clients that they are supporting, to also support the development of the profession. But we know that both things are needed.”

In a statement to the Gauntlet, Andrea Oiffer, the field instructor overseeing the program, pointed to the positive outcomes of the pilot program, such as professional relationships with future employers and hopes that its successes can be replicated in the upcoming year. 

“Students had the opportunity to build relationships with fellow BSW students from other post-secondary institutions and build connections with practicing registered social workers — individuals who might become future colleagues and mentors,” read the statement. 

“If this program continues, we can continue to cultivate an innovative, successful and sustainable practicum model that would benefit BSW students, the social work profession, and the healthcare system,” the statement concluded.  

More information regarding field education opportunities for social work students can be found on the Faculty of Social Work website.

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