This information is intended to give you an overview of field education (TSOCW 524 and TSOCW 525) and answer some of the most commonly asked questions. It should be used as a quick reference and is not an exhaustive explanation of the practicum process. You will begin meeting with the Field Coordinator during Winter Quarter of your first year to start the field placement process. While you should certainly be thinking about field placement options during your first quarter, you do not need to focus on it extensively.
Q: What is Field Education?
A: Field Education (also called Practicum) is the signature pedagogy of social work education; that is, it is the means by which theory and practice are brought together, and “practice wisdom” is communicated from seasoned professionals to new social workers. You register and receive credit for field work, but it does not meet as a traditional class. Your “classroom” is a human service agency in the community that has agreed to accept students as part of its commitment to the education of future social workers. Similar to an “internship,” it differs in having specific academic and practice-based outcomes which the student must achieve to move forward in the MSW program.
Q: Why are there two field placements?
A: Placements are divided into two types: Foundation and Advanced. The Foundation placement (TSOCW 524) can take place at any human service agency with which the MSW program has an affiliation agreement. It is, however, geared to basic practice skills—a “generalist” placement—and must address practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. The Advanced placement (TSOCW 525) generally is more of a specialized placement (e.g., medical, schools, veterans). It may focus on direct service provision with a particular population, or may focus on policy, research, or administrative tasks related to these populations.
Q: How many hours are required for completion of the placements?
A: Foundation Practicum consists of a 40-hour introductory class (1 credit) during Spring quarter of your first year, followed by 360 field hours in an agency usually spread out over Summer, Fall, and Winter quarters following your first year of classes. This comes to a total of 400 hours (10 credits). Your actual weekly schedule at the agency is determined between you and the agency staff. Advanced Practicum consists of 680 hours spread out over Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters of your final year, for which you receive a total of 17 credits. Individual variations on this schedule can be discussed with your Field Faculty.
Q: Do I get paid for my field placement?
A: Probably not. Some agencies provide a stipend to student interns, but the vast majority do not. Practicum is simply an extension of the classroom into the community and class attendance is not a paid activity. If your field agency wants to provide you with a stipend, that is fine with the MSW Program, but there is no expectation that agencies provide stipends.
Q: I work full time. How will I be able to do my practicum?
A: We are well aware that most of our students are working full time and we have attempted to recruit field placements which have evening and/or weekend hours available—they are few. Please keep in mind that most field work happens during regular business hours and evening or weekend placements may not be quite as rich an educational experience. Therefore, you will likely need to make arrangements with your employer to reconfigure work hours (e.g., doing four 10-hour days). The Field Faculty will work with you closely to accommodate your work and field placement, but there are limits to how flexible we can be. Please note that it is very, very difficult to work full time and complete your Advanced placement simultaneously.
Q: I’ve been working in human services for a long time. Can I test out of practicum or get credit for what I’ve already done?
A: No. While we know that many of our students bring extensive human service experience with them to the classroom, the standard of the Council on Social Work Education (our accrediting body) requires both of the field placements for the degree. They specifically prohibit credit for “life experience”.
Q: If I work in a human service agency, can I use my job as my practicum site?
A: While we strongly encourage experienced students to move outside their comfort zone and explore new areas of human service, we also recognize that sometimes a workplace field experience can be rewarding. You may request that one of your two placements be at your place of employment. There is a special procedure and special criteria for this and you will need to meet with Field Faculty to discuss it. Your regular job cannot serve as a field placement; and please do not assume that you will be able to use your workplace as a field placement site.
Q: What if I want to do my placement at an agency that UWT does not have a contract with?
A: We’re always open to establishing new placement sites! We encourage students to let us know about programs and agencies that might provide a good learning opportunity. There are criteria that agencies must meet in order to be a field site for us, and we will be happy to talk with them about that. Please note, however, that students do not set up their own placements—this is a collaborative effort with Field Faculty.
Q: How do I get placed for my practicum?
A: Part of your 1-credit Spring quarter section of TSOCW 524 will be to establish your field site for the following summer. This is a collaborative process where the student and Field Faculty discuss past experience, future goals, current work/school/family situations, and develop possible placement sites. The student then interviews with prospective agencies to determine whether there is a “fit” for both the student and the agency (remember, they will be investing a lot of time and energy in your education and want to make sure their efforts will be worthwhile). There are some basic competencies and accompanying practice behaviors that you must be able to accomplish at the agency, and developing that “learning contract” to do that will also be part of your Spring quarter activity.
Q: Are there any special requirements for placement in particular agencies?
A: Depending upon your field setting, there may be special eligibility requirements (e.g., agencies that work with addictions, healthcare settings, or public schools). We will discuss those requirements in plenty of time for you to be eligible for them. There may be costs associated with these special requirements (e.g. having an active CPR/AED card) which are borne by the student.