Academic journal article Social Work

Professional Education and Private Practice: Is There a Disconnect?

Academic journal article Social Work

Professional Education and Private Practice: Is There a Disconnect?

Article excerpt

This article summarizes results of a national study conducted to evaluate the private practice career intentions of MSW graduate student members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (n = 271), the extent to which these students are being prepared for private practice by the graduate schools, and the views of the graduate deans (n = 104) and macro practice (n = 152) and clinical (n = 278) members of NASW about private practice and social work education. An analysis of mailed questionnaire responses from these stakeholding groups suggests a striking disconnect between practice and education. Although a majority of graduate students plan to enter private practice, most on a full-time basis, graduate schools do not teach content specific to private practice careers, and many faculty even discourage the discussion of private practice career aspirations. On the other hand, a majority of NASW members, whether clinical or macro social workers, expected graduate schools to begin educating students for private practice. It is proposed that the labor force transition from the public to the private sector has resulted in the bifurcation of social work education. Implications for social work practice are discussed; short- and long-term initiatives for matching social work education to social work practice are proposed.

KEY WORDS: graduate education; private practice; research

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Before 1950, professional social work was practiced almost exclusively by employees P of government and private agencies and organizations. However, economic, legal, and professional changes during the last half of the 20th century influenced numerous social workers to enter private practice. This transition was so swift that by 1993 more than half (57.5 percent) of the members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reported they were engaged in private practice as a secondary (42.5 percent) or primary (15.0 percent) setting (Gibelman & Schervish, 1996). Twenty years later, the percentage of NASW members in primary private practice settings had doubled. Currently, almost 40 percent of the membership with BSW, MSW, or doctoral degrees identify solo (21.7 percent) or group (8.5 percent) private practice as their primary work setting. More NASW members are now in private practice settings than in such traditional social work settings as child welfare, social services, or mental health (Infocus Marketing, 2005).Although this national documentation pertains specifically to MSW social workers who are members of NASW, similar findings have been observed for individual states without regard to membership (see, for example, Fairbank, 1989; McGuire, Gurin, Frisman, Kane, & Shatkin, 1984; Shatkin, Frisman, & McGuire, 1986).

Maintaining the correspondence between professional education and the requirements of social work practice requires ongoing monitoring and assessment to ensure graduates are adequately prepared for the changing and dynamic nature of service delivery. In the wake of labor force transitions, these assessments become even more critical to maintaining the effectiveness and accountability of professional practice. The present study was conducted to examine the goodness-of-fit between social work education and the private practice of social work. Survey sampling techniques were used to estimate the number of current graduate student members of NASW whose career goals include private practice. These students and those who planned careers exclusively in agency-based practice were asked to assess private practice education at their respective schools and to share their views about the relationship between social work education and private practice. Furthermore, to learn about the availability of courses and field placements specific to private practice, we surveyed the graduate deans and asked them to assess and report their faculties' attitudes about and competencies to teach private practice content. …

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