Field education is a hallmark of social work education, giving students the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with other professionals, meet real-life clients and solve complex problems. These experiences play a substantial role in transforming social work students into social work professionals.
For social work students with career aspirations focused on working with vulnerable and underserved populations, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) grant provides a premier field education experience. The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University has joined highly regarded institutions across the country to train students under this grant, which utilizes a model of interprofessional education that emphasizes multidisciplinary teams of professionals to solve some of the biggest healthcare and social challenges of today, issues like the opioid crisis, rising suicide rates, and the prevalence of violence and trauma.
The program is a collaboration between the Mandel School and MetroHealth. Over two semesters, 10 social work students, together with Case Western Reserve graduate-level nursing students and doctoral psychology students, work in collaboration with professionals from a range of specialties in a variety of behavioral health and primary care settings at the hospital. Social work students selected to participate in this highly regarded program receive a federally funded $10,000 stipend for their participation.
“Being part of this program was invaluable to my career,” says Rachel Truhan, a 2018 graduate of the Mandel School whose HRSA grant experience in a pediatric nutrition education and wellness clinic turned into a full-time job at MetroHealth in the adult intensive care unit. “Now that I’m working, I see that so little of my professional time is spent with other social workers. Learning in a team of dieticians, nurses, psychologists, doctors and others helped me to be prepared to share social work practices and concepts with professionals from other fields so that, together, we could find better solutions for patients.”
Truhan recalls an experience from her field education, for example, when working with a young patient who was enrolled in the clinic because of weight challenges. Because she was working with a team of professionals, however, Truhan and her colleagues were able to identify and address other challenges the child was facing, including foster care complications, over-medication and self-harming behaviors.
“This is what interprofessional field education is all about,” says Amy Korsch-Williams, director of field education at the Mandel School. “The opportunity to learn from and with other professions helps our students develop as leaders in social work practice, preparing them to effectively address highly complex issues from the time they begin their careers.”
Students interested in the HRSA/BHWET training program undergo a rigorous nomination and application process, including a demonstrated interest and commitment to a future in behavioral health, integrated care and work with underserved populations; a current resume; an essay; and an interview.