Oct 102012
 
health practicum vancouver bc social workers

Waiting patiently for a social work practicum in a healthcare setting in Vancouver, BC…

If you’re a BSW or MSW student, you probably need to do a practicum placement to complete your degree. I’m an MSW (Master’s of Social Work) student at UBC (the University of British Columbia) in Vancouver…and I’m one of the few BSW and MSW students who hasn’t found a practicum placement.

I’m told that my expectations are too high. My practicum advisor and the placement coordinator at UBC tell me I won’t get a placement in the field of my choice (a hospital, clinic, or health organization). I don’t have any healthcare or social work experience, and the three organizations they tried won’t take first year MSW students. The advisor and the practicum coordinator are both encouraging me to take a placement of their choice, so I get the social work experience I need.

Since I’m in my first year of my MSW, next year is also a concern (for me). I’m worried that if I take any old placement this year, I won’t get the hospital or healthcare experience I need for my second year. And, I really want to be at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver for my second year…but they won’t take me if I don’t have healthcare experience! It’s a vicious cycle.

At the beginning of the semester, all the BSW and MSW students were told not to contact possible practicum placements directly. We were to fill out a Sample Field Placement Request and send our resume to the practicum coordinator. Now, however, I’m allowed to contact social workers, health organizations, and whatever organizations I hope to be placed with. The practicum coordinator has her hands full with more social work students than she’s ever had in the past, and I’m left to my own devices. At first I was disappointed, but now I’m enjoying the process.

Tips on Finding a Practicum Placement in Social Work

I know I’ll find a hospital or healthcare placement, because I’ve been calling social workers and healthcare organizations directly. They are incredibly encouraging and supportive, which surprised me (I thought I’d hear the same things I did when I met with my practicum advisor and the placement coordinator at UBC). Instead, the social workers in the field told me to keep advocating for myself – which I really appreciated! They were encouraging and supportive.

If you’re looking for a social work practicum placement…

  • Ask for permission from your program advisor or practicum coordinator before you start calling organizations, social workers, or counselors.
  • Don’t disrespect or criticize the BSW or MSW program, your practicum supervisor, or the placement coordinator.
  • Remember that you are a valuable commodity, and many social workers enjoy having practicum students (a social worker told me this, and I know it’s true).
  • Ask every social worker you call if they are willing to discuss a possible practicum placement. Be prepared to answer their questions, which range from “Why do you want to be a social worker?” to “How many days a week can you work?”
  • Update your resume, and ask if you can email it to them – even if they can’t take a practicum student. You never know when and if it’ll be referred to.
  • Ask every social worker for the name of an organization or person who might take on a practicum student. Then, tell that social worker that you were referred by X.
  • Start at the top – the practicum placements you’d LOVE to work at. Work your way down.
  • Stay in touch with the practicum coordinator and your placement supervisor. Keep them apprised of the organizations and social workers you’re talking to.

I spent two hours calling hospitals, clinics, and healthcare organizations. A social work placement didn’t magically materialize, but two social workers said they may have a place for me and asked me to send their resume. I sent two other social workers my resume, just in case they have an opening in the future.

When my practicum supervisor and placement coordinator at UBC told me they wouldn’t be able to place me in a healthcare setting, I was so disappointed and frustrated. They said it was because of me – my lack of experience and high expectations for a social work placement. They also said the healthcare system is very closed right now, and healthcare placements are very difficult to find.

But, after making 9 phone calls, I really believe I’ll find a healthcare placement with a social worker. I think my practicum supervisor and placement coordinator are wrong…and I really hope to prove it!

Sample Cover Letter to the Clinical Practice Lead (Social Worker) at a Hospital

Dear Ms MacDonald,

I hope this finds you well! My name is Laurie Kienlen; I’m an MSW student at UBC, and am looking for a practicum placement. I can work 2 days a week (Saturdays and evenings are fine), and can start now, in January, or even next spring.

My resume is attached, and here is a “snapshot” of me:

My undergraduate degrees are in Psychology and Education. I taught grade 8 at an American school in Africa for three years, and am comfortable with people of different cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles. I’m highly adaptable, and enjoy the challenge of new experiences. I have personal experience with ulcerative colitis, infertility, and schizophrenia (my mother struggled with it throughout my life).

My long-term career goal is to work with people coping with chronic illness. Short-term, I’m hoping for a practicum placement that will enhance my social work and counseling skills. I want to learn how to advocate for people, and support them as they learn how to advocate for themselves. I’d love to lead group programs or workshops, develop my case management skills, and assess and treat issues that illness can bring.

In my previous job as a Mentoring Coordinator with Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, I conduct Family Assessments and Volunteer Interviews. I matched mentors with at-risk children and youth, and monitored the matches. I maintained up-to-date case notes in both the digital Case Management System and the print files. I believe I’ve developed the ability to establish rapport with people quickly, so they feel comfortable opening up to me. Melissa Wilson was my supervisor; I encourage you to call her for a reference.

I have strong interpersonal skills – my work experience has taught me how to communicate effectively with parents, guardians, youth, and fellow employees. I enjoy working as part of a team, and welcome feedback and correction. I can organize, prioritize, and do my work with little supervision. That said, however, I am the first to ask for help, support, and guidance when I need it! My written and verbal communication skills are strong, and I’ve learned the importance of dealing with people tactfully.

And finally, I live in North Vancouver (Deep Cove). I have a car, and can travel wherever necessary.

I welcome the opportunity to meet with you in person! Please call or email me at your convenience.

Sincerely,

Laurie Kienlen

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If you have any thoughts or questions on finding a practicum placement in social work, please comment below!

And if you haven’t written a cultural identity paper yet, read How to Write a Self-Identity Paper for Social Work Class.

About Me

quips tips love relationshipsI'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.

  9 Responses to “How to Find a Practicum Placement in Social Work”

  1. Congratulations on being accepted into the MSW program at UBC, Tina! You must be super excited :-) When are you moving to Vancouver? I’d be happy to meet for a coffee or (better yet) a walk on the seawall when you get here!

    My practicum is good so far. It’s “light” in comparison to my fellow students, who are working with drug-addicted youth, in the psych ward of hospitals, etc. I’m fine with a lighter practicum because I won’t be working full-time as a social worker when I graduate. I just love being in school, love working on my blogs, love traveling….my MSW isn’t really to get a better job! It’s just to round out my life.

    Yes, you should definitely connect with the social work school about your placement. I encourage you to think more about your interests and future career, rather than a close placement. A close placement would be ideal, I know, but you have to balance that with getting the experience you need to be a strong practitioner.

    Stay in touch – let me know when you’re moving to Vancouver! And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

    All good things,
    Laurie

  2. Hi Laurie,
    Yes, I have been accepted into the program :-)
    Distance wise I am okay with a under 30 minute bus ride. I am coming from a really small town, so the thought of travelling a long distance for placement worries me, lol. I will connect with the faculty of social work to see what my options are.

    How is your placement going?

    Thank you,
    Tina

  3. Hi Tina,

    Yes, there are practicum placements on the UBC campus. There is a counseling centre on campus, and they accept practicum students. However, this year they required students to work 3 days a week — normally, we’re supposed to work 2 days a week. We have classes the other 2 days a week, and it’s good to have a day to keep up with readings and assignments.

    I’m not sure about placements close to campus – I guess it depends what you mean by “close”! Walking distance? A 20 minute bus ride? My placement is with the Alzheimer’s Society of Vancouver, and it’s 20 minutes by bus from UBC.

    I hope this helps! Have you been accepted into the MSW program?

    Cheers,
    Laurie

  4. Hi Laurie,
    I was just wondering, for the MSW practicum’s are there options to do your placement somewhere on campus? Or even close to campus? I would prefer something close to UBC, especially because I will be living on campus. I am looking for counseling or clinical social work. Thank you,
    Tina

  5. Thanks mpuppal, I really appreciate your thoughts! I agree that working with Muslim people would be very enlightening and interesting. I have a Little Sister through Big Sisters/Big Brothers organization, and she’s Muslim. I love her and her family.

    It’s just that I really want to work with people coping with chronic illness, and I was so hoping for a health-related practicum placement. I believe it’s possible to get one, but the practicum coordinator at UBC only works part-time, and is overworked. She doesn’t have time to find me the ideal placement.

    So, as interesting it would be to work with Muslims, I’m just hesitating because it’s not where I want to go professionally. Just like working with elderly people, homeless teenagers, prisoners, Aboriginals — they are all fascinating in their own way, but not what I’m passionate about.

    But I agree, a practicum placement with Muslims would be incredibly eye opening. I’ll go on my interview next week, and give it alot of thought.

  6. Hi Laurie,
    I just read about your predicament of not finding a placement of your choice for a practical program. But if I may give my opinion, I’d say an opportunity to work with Muslim immigrants will prove very enlightening for you. Muslims are unique culturally and interaction with them,understanding their problems in a foreign land and offering solutions will be more of a challenge as well as an eye opener in many ways.
    Good luck for your success!

  7. Next week I have an interview with a social worker who works with Muslim immigrants. Very nice lady, but it’s not a healthcare setting.

    Should I take it, or hold out and hope I get what I really want — a practicum placement at a hospital or clinic??? My practicum advisor and placement coordinator would say take it, because nothing better will come along.

    But I want to work in a field that inspires and motivates me…There is NOTHING wrong with Muslim immigrants; it’s just that they’re not my passion.

    Hmmm….what to do?

  8. It’s nice to know we’re not alone! :-)

    Yes, you should definitely check in with the placement coordinator about your practicum as soon as possible! The longer you leave it, the more potential there is for misunderstandings, miscommunication, and mistakes. Plus, you have 450 hours to get under your belt…and the sooner you start, the better.

    That said, however, I think I want to start my practicum in April. I like my schedule as it is – I have social work classes 2 days a week, and I work on my blogs (and my assignments, of course!) the rest of the time. I love having the time to spend with my dog. I’d like to find a practicum placement for 2 or 3 days a week from April to August, over the summer. But the problem with that is many social workers take time off in the summer and may not be able to take a student at that time.

    So…it’s probably best to get a placement sorted out as soon as possible. I’m still working on mine, but I’m in regular contact with the placement coordinator.

  9. my goal is healthcare too, I still havent been placed…Im 3rd year bsw. so for me i still got some time, but i think its important for me to get AS much healthcare experience as I can..it makes me nervous. perhaps ill talk to the coordinator at school and see if i can get myself in. thanks for writing this it really made me feel better as i now know that I am not the only one struggling to find a placement in my area of interest. Good luck with everything!

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