In my foundational social work placement I was placed at a subsidized housing building for persons with mental health issues, which provided both meaningful learning and personal growth for me despite my initial disappointment at not being placed in an organization where I could gain experience working with children. This internship allowed me an opportunity to transcend from the theoretical to the practical as I made good use of all the attending skills I had developed through academic exercises in navigating the counseling, case management, and socialization needs of residents, while prioritizing ethical standards like client-centred care, confidentiality, etc. Near the end of the practicum I met with my placement supervisor to jointly review the necessary final evaluation form. The meeting began with her disclaimer that although ratings were from 1 to 5, with 1 being unacceptable, 5 being exceptional, 3 was a pass and the level that students were expected to be, so it would be unrealistic to expect higher as an intern.
Although I grasped her perspective, I felt strongly that I deserved a score of 4 or 5 in some areas, which is why I rated myself accordingly and prepared to negotiate this in our meeting; of note, I remember her insistence that I only deserved a 3 for one item on the list related to embodying ethical standards in the student role, for which, I felt strongly that I deserved at least a 4. I could not comprehend how she failed to understand that I lived and breathed ethics into every aspect of the social work role. I reflected on my ethical approach to all resident matters, whether on the micro level of confidential individual counseling services related to a variety of mental health issues or the mezzo level of treating all residents equally when planning group events or on the macro level of advocating for the needs of the entire building regarding disrespectful service provision from the cafeteria staff. To my surprise, she did not disagree on that note, but instead expressed opposition to the student aspect of the item, as she stated that she doubted I had the first clue about how to be a student. Upon further discussion, she reviewed her expectations that the student role was meant for learning and I did not do an exceptional job of fostering opportunities for that as I rarely sought her out for direction, as I would tend to manage situations on my own. I inquired if I had made poor decisions without her supervisory guidance, which she denied, but still held her view that in so doing I did not demonstrate exceptional work regarding the student role, as she saw it. Clearly, she and I held differing views on the role of a graduate student, as I only sought out direction from my placement supervisor when I felt that it was necessary for further information, knowledge, skills, etc. to meet the needs of the residents I served.
Later on, when securing my advanced practicum internship, I was interviewing at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan along with over a dozen students from other American and Canadian graduate schools, however the organization would not give a solid number as to how many interns they would accept but only stated as many as were “a good fit”; as an eager graduate student, this feedback was extremely frustrating. Given my earlier foundational placement experience, I purposefully shared my evaluation meeting story when interviewing with potential placement supervisors as I believed it shed light on what might be considered “a good fit” for me when it came to expected roles and relationships, as I valued my ability to think critically and learn independently as an intern, which may not work well for all supervisors. Thankfully, I ended up with three offers for placement, all of which interested me, but eventually opted for the Horizon’s Project, as it allowed me a well-rounded opportunity to work with youth with an HIV diagnosis, doing the micro work of individual psychosocial assessments, mezzo work of facilitating support groups, and macro work of grant-writing; this unique internship provided me with all I had hoped for, and more. Since then, I have ventured into a variety of work environments and I feel even more strongly that it is important to know oneself well and seek out career opportunities that fit with one’s ethics, interests, personality, strengths, areas of challenge, etc. to reduce risk of burnout and maximize quality of life.
Written By Krystal Jagoo, MSW, RSW
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