On Social Work Internships: The Importance of the Standard

Thanks to several colleagues I have become aware of the initiative and petition to no longer require a field placement in social work, but rather to leave it up to the individual student who, under advisement, would make the decision that he or she thinks would be best about what is needed.

I write as the Director of Training for the Department of Social Work at Duke University Medical Center (where we have roughly 25 social work interns) and as a past recipient of “The Heart of Social Work Award” granted by the North American Field Educators and Directors, of the Council On Social Work Education.

While any forum that offers a platform for debate can claim neutrality on the issue at hand, the simple act of offering a platform confers respectability to the issue. What would be the response if I, for example, wished to start a petition to eliminate statistics or diversity from a social work education? What if I wanted to start a petition that would permit social workers to grant themselves Ph.D.’s based on work experience? Would the petition be taken seriously?

While there are some areas worthy of debate, there are others that are too outlandish for serious consideration. Working in the field as an intern must remain a part of a social workers experience. Internships should be neither painful or exploitative. If the student feels that he or she is being taken advantage of or that the internship is not worthwhile, then the school and the field, and the requirements of CSWE, must be held accountable. We must tighten standards, not reduce or eliminate them.

Many of us have had the experience of working under a manager who has never had to work in the trenches, or who simply doesn’t understand what it means to do quality clinical work. It is hard to believe that the experience so fundamental to what it is to being a social worker could be called into question. If the field practicum is eliminated, that person who skated by, might someday, God forbid, be your manager.

While one can always claim that various debates are useful, I sincerely hope that one side of this debate will be seen for how damaging such a prospect would be for those of us who aspire to hold ourselves and our profession to high respectable standards.

For more information on this topic:



Written By:
William S. Meyer, MSW, BCD
Associate Clinical Professor
Departments of Psychiatry and Ob/Gyn
Duke University Medical Center

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