If you’re thinking about going into the social work field, then you should know accredited BSW programs require a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience. Want to know what to expect? We met with Katherine Perone, associate professor and director of field education at Western Illinois University. She also is a member of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and PRN (Pro Re Nata) at a hospital. She shares what the benefits are for finding the right placement.
EHC: You worked as a social worker for over ten years. What inspired you to get into the field?
KP: I actually had no desire to be a social worker. Originally, my goal was to become a high school guidance counselor. For a while, I was working as a switchboard operator at a hospital, although I wanted a career where I could make use of my bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in secondary education. When a social service associate position became open at the hospital, I thought it would be really interesting, so I applied for it and was hired for that position. It was a perfect fit for me.
EHC: Why did you eventually move to higher education?
KP: I’ve always loved education and teaching. When I was a social worker in a medical setting, I was still educating patients on certain resources. So you’re always doing education, in my opinion. When I went to get my master’s later in life and was back on the college campus, I found that I enjoyed being part of the campus community. I decided to see how I liked teaching at the college level and was lucky enough to become an adjunct teacher. I enjoyed it and enjoyed teaching college students and so that’s what brought me to higher ed.
EHC: What makes the field education component so important for a social work degree, and can you describe the variety of placements students have access to?
KP: Field education is taking what you’ve learned in the classroom and applying it to the practice arena. Classes prepare you for working with clients by teaching you how to engage the client, how to ask different questions, and how to apply those lessons. Then, when you’re in an agency setting and completing your practicum, you apply what you’ve learned to the field.
There are also a variety of places you can work, and there are different organizations and agencies you can work with. It’s important to try working with different organizations and agencies. The networking and the experience help you to figure out where you’ll ultimately go in your career.
EHC: Could you describe some of the placements students have access to?
KP: Because our students are getting their bachelor’s degrees, they have access to agencies that promote general social work practice. They have opportunities to practice looking at the individuals, looking at groups or families, and looking at community organizations.
EHC: What advice or tips do you have for students interested in pursuing a social work career?
KP: Be open to exploring all different avenues of social work. Be self-reflective so you can understand what your own biases are so you can help those you’re looking after.
Interested in learning more about social work education? Check out the Council of Social Work Education website.