Academic journal article Field Educator

An Ethical Dilemma in Field Education

Academic journal article Field Educator

An Ethical Dilemma in Field Education

Article excerpt

The professional socialization of social workers involves the process of acquiring knowledge and skills, values, attitudes, and professional identity (Miller, 2010). As a field liaison for graduate social work students, one of my responsibilities was to link field placement experiences with classroom work. I accomplished this with seminars, site visits, and review of written agreements, reflections, and evaluations. Barretti (2004) notes that virtually everything faculty and field instructors do and say profoundly influences their students. Professional competencies that lead to professional socialization involve a process where students begin to utilize professional language in their construction of events, and to implement actions to address ethical issues and dilemmas (Dolgoff, Lowenberg, & Harrington, 2009; Holosko & Skinner, 2009; Horner & Kelly, 2007; Manning, 1997). In this paper, I describe an ethical dilemma with respect to research at a field placement. I then analyze the dilemma, and finally discuss how an intern can work toward promoting client self-determination and social justice with respect to a complex dilemma.

Social workers are responsible for promoting social justice, integrity, and the dignity and worth of the person. Social justice, as defined by the NASW Code of Ethics (1999), is the pursuit of social change on behalf of vulnerable populations, striving to ensure that individuals have access to needed information, services, and resources, and that they can meaningfully participate in decision-making processes. Social workers promote the "dignity and worth of the person" and ensure client self-determination. "Integrity" implies that social workers act honestly and responsibly, and promote ethical practices on the part of the organization with which they are affiliated (NASW, 1999). If I, as the field liaison, want my students to think critically about the NASW Code of Ethics, then I need to hold meaningful discussions with my students about the inherent values and ethics of social work in the field. Critical thinking around ethics, according to Banks and Williams (2005), involves asking 'What should I/we do?' in terms of how individuals should treat each other and their environment and if certain actions should be regarded as right or wrong.

An Ethical Dilemma in Research in a Psychiatric Hospital

The ethical situation that challenged me as a field liaison occurred at a psychiatric hospital where one of my students was interning. From my perspective, the situation involved routine experimental research protocols so deeply embedded in the hospital's culture that it seemed unlikely that either the field instructor or the student was aware of the ethical implications of these protocols. The student, completing her last semester of her Master's in Social Work (MSW) program, was interning three days a week at an inpatient psychiatric hospital, where she was also doing a research project. I met with the student and her field instructor midway through the semester. The field instructor conclusively noted that the student was making terrific progress in her assignments and was well-liked by staff and patients. The student was assigned group and individual work, and was an effective part of the treatment team. Additionally, the setting gave the student plenty of opportunities to work with issues related to socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic diversity.

As we talked, I became aware that the hospital participated in drug trials. The hospital had an active Institutional Review Board (IRB) that monitored ongoing research, carried out in collaboration with pharmaceutical entities, on patients receiving treatment at the hospital. For the most part, these patients were receiving treatment for serious and chronic psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The student, as part of her MSW program, was doing a research project at the hospital which involved a review of records. …

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