by Tony Vasquez, MSW, January 2014
The process of securing and starting an internship as a student in an MSW program can be both stressful and exciting. On one hand, your internship is an opportunity to meld class instruction with real world experience that you may need to enhance your career as a professional social worker. On the other hand, this period can bring on unwanted anxiety and insecurities as you move into the unknown world of social issues, human behavior and community problems. The time commitment and job expectations can seem a bit overwhelming in the beginning; especially when you have other school obligations, familial responsibilities and possibly job related duties to manage, but keep in mind, completing your internship means you are another step closer to your goal of earning your degree!
During your internship you may be presented with opportunities to develop your social work skills in case management, assessment, treatment interventions, and evaluations at the practice level. The beginning of your internship is the time where you will learn the culture of the practicum setting. You will likely spend time getting to know your supervisor, colleagues, and the client population. You will spend time learning about the history of the organization, the organizations policies and procedures, safety standards, your role as an intern, and the roles of other members of your team. Take time to familiarize yourself with referral sources, agency client base, community partners and agency hierarchy. The initial phase of your internship may help you to begin to formulate your goals and objectives and determine how to integrate them into your student learning plan. As a new intern you should be prepared to spend your time shadowing, reviewing charts, attending meetings, and observing assessments. As you become more experienced you may be likely to be asked to take on more responsibilities within the organization. You may be assigned to manage client cases, asked to lead support groups, give presentations, or even participate in the organizations strategic planning process.
The integrative seminar experience (the classwork that accompanies your practicum) is usually intended to help you connect the skills and knowledge you are gaining in your internship to theoretical concepts learned over the course of your formal education. The seminar should help you bridge your practicum experience into your first social work role after you earn your degree. Your seminar should be a safe space to address and work through any challenges you face during your internship. It is also an opportunity to learn from the experiences of other students in your cohort.
The practicum element of an MSW curriculum is intended to give you exposure to the realities of working in the field of social work. It is a time when you can learn about the challenges of working in the field in a supportive environment, where your risk is low, and the opportunity for career enhancement and learning is great.
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