Rural Social Work Placements

a rural social work field education placement

A peek behind the scenes

For Master of Social Work students, the prospect of undertaking a field education placement in a rural town can be both daunting and exciting. The Field Education team understands. Substantial background work therefore goes into organising a placement before a student steps through the door of their placement agency.

The team encourages our students to consider a placement in rural and regional Victoria from the outset.  We are keen to promote the benefits including the breadth of experience a rural placement can offer, and the unique opportunities for demonstrating resilience, lateral thinking and a willingness to take risks with learning –  which serve to improve any student’s job prospects. However, a rural placement isn’t for everyone, given social work placements are thirteen weeks long.

Planting the seed in the minds of our students starts in Orientation Week when they enter the course and awareness raising continues throughout the program. We host guest speakers from Going Rural Health and promote the Going Rural Health’s website, social media and workshops. Previous students who have completed a rural placement are invited to share their experiences.

Students who express interest in a rural placement are then screened by the team for their suitability via their registration form and phone/face-to-face conversations.

The team begins working with staff from the Going Rural health team up to 6 months in advance to source social work placements with partner agencies. The agencies that end up confirming placements will usually be a mix of those we have placed students with previously and others offering new opportunities across several fields of practice. The ultimate success of a placement often rests with the work that is undertaken in this phase. We need to be clear with the agency that students require a balance of independent and supported learning opportunities that fulfil the AASW’s ASWEAS Guidelines. Consideration of the supervision model is also an important component of placement preparation (Hill et al, 2020). It will be no surprise to know that, since COVID-19, the use of online supervision has become more widely used. We are also mindful that high levels of student satisfaction can foster an intention to return and seek rural employment after graduation (Smith et al, 2018).

As placements are confirmed, we endeavour to match students based on their previous experience, expressed interests, skills gaps, desired regional area, familial links, transport access and possession of a driver’s licence. Students are matched with the available placements. The placement provider then interviews the student (face-to-face or by video conference) and a placement offer will hopefully follow if the student is deemed a suitable match.

At this stage students will be linked to staff at the Going Rural Health team who will provide support and information about accommodation, bursaries and the local area. If a student is placed outside the Going Rural Health footprint, they will be linked into other universities to seek accommodation e.g. Deakin University’s accommodation at Warrnambool. Prior to the placement commencing, a pre-placement briefing will be held for rural-bound students convened the Field Education team.

During the placement, students are monitored via their tutors (liaison visitors). They receive ongoing support from their Going Rural Health contact and are linked with other students in the region across various allied health disciplines. At completion, students are contacted for feedback about their experience and are sometimes asked about their willingness to speak about their experiences to future students considering a rural placement. And so, the annual cycle of placement preparation continues.  

The work behind the scenes by the university, Going Rural Health staff, the Field Education team and each agency benefits both our students and the local regions. We aim to provide students with a powerful opportunity to experience living and working in a rural area, which in turn not only stands them in good stead to meet their learning goals, but may also influence their decision to return to a rural position at graduation. Such an outcome leads the Field Education team to rejoice – not only have we played a small role in chipping away at the shortage of allied health professionals in rural Victoria, but we have also gained a potential contact who might host a future social work placement!

 

References

Hill, N., Egan, R., Cleak, H., & Zuchowski, I. (2020). Chapter 13. Thinking Outside the Square. Challenges, Opportunities and Innovations in Social Work Field Education, 151.

Smith, T., Sutton, K., Pit, S., Muyambi, K., Terry, D., Farthing, A., Courtney, C., & Cross, M. (2018). Health professional students’ rural placement satisfaction and rural practice intentions: A national cross‐sectional survey. Australian Journal of Rural Health26(1), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajr.12375

Judi Brewster

Associate Lecturer and Field Education Coordinator

Department of Social Work

The University of Melbourne, Parkville