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Social Work Education: Interdisciplinary teams a growing area of training

By Alison Laurio

During a field placement at a hospital, a social work student became concerned after a mother with a young girl gave birth to a premature baby and had to remain in the hospital. The hospital would not let the girl on the floor, and the mother had no one to care for her.

2018-April-featureKeri Neblett, clinical assistant professor and field education director at the University of Iowa School of Social Work in Iowa City, said the student became concerned when different ideas were discussed and someone said the girl should be put in foster care.

“She said the child should not be separated from her mother,” Neblett said. “In the end, the child was allowed on the floor after it was arranged for a volunteer to engage with her. (The student) felt comfortable enough to speak up, and it worked out well.”

After graduating from college and starting first jobs, students in many professions undergo a learning curve.

Social work students need knowledge of other professions, what those roles are and the language and terminology they use — as well as knowing how they fit in as social workers.

From lessons infused in coursework to special programs and field experiences, social work schools are using varied and creative ways to ensure students are ready to begin their careers.

For most in today’s practice world, that means being prepared to work on interdisciplinary teams — and different schools use different methods for this training.

The following schools are among the leaders in interdisciplinary education, most of which focuses on social work in health care settings.

Arizona State University

Robin P. Bonifas is associate professor, associate director for curriculum and instruction, honors faculty member and the John A. Hartford Faculty Scholar in Geriatric Social Work at the School of Social Work at Arizona State University’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions in Phoenix.

Interdisciplinary training was basic at first, involving the schools of medicine, pharmacy and social work, she said. “We would bring students together to work on a complex case study and introduce an ethical dilemma they had to work on together.”

Then the College of Nursing received funding — two grants over a six-year period — and they used it to strengthen their interprofessional curriculum so nursing and nutrition students were added to the interdisciplinary mix, Bonifas said.

The focus was on clinical training sites so students could learn together in the field with coaches from every field involved.

“We’ve developed online learning modules, and a lot of community events and workshops provide an additional opportunity for them to learn together,” Bonifas said.

On the social work school’s curriculum side, “We’ve been doing more and more each year and planning more events,” she said.

Starting in the fall of 2010, students began a new requirement of choosing one event to participate in throughout the semester and writing about their experience after completing it.

Grad students were put into a practice in a behavioral health setting in the fall, and in the spring, advanced practice in health was a specialized medical care practice, and the Objective Structured Clinical Exam was built into the course, Bonifas said.

“In the practice program, MSW and nursing students work with an actor trained to play the role of a person with complex medical needs and complex psychosocial needs,” she said. “Nursing students first do a needs assessment, then social workers do a needs assessment, then they compare notes and move forward to develop a collaborative intervention plan.”

From the April 2018 NASW News. Read the full feature article.

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