Field instruction

FAQs about field instruction

The following list of questions represents the 10 most frequently asked questions we receive about field placements. For more information, contact the director of field instruction at (804) 828-0708.

What is the process to obtain a field placement?

In the semester prior to the beginning of the field placement, the B.S.W. and Foundation students complete an application for field placement (found online and due at the published deadline).  This application includes background information and, students are invited to indicate their social work practice interests. The field office considers each student’s interests, goals and background to determine which agencies might be a good match. Students will then be tentatively assigned to an agency, pending a pre-placement interview. Regardless of where a student is placed, B.S.W. and Foundation settings provide social work practice learning opportunities that will broaden students’ professional experience and develop basic social work knowledge, values and skills.

Concentration students receive information about placements available in their selected concentration (clinical or planning and policy practice) in several ways in the Spring semester prior to the fall semester when they will do the placement. Based on this information, discussion with field faculty and/or their faculty adviser, students list three agency choices on their field application. Placements are made based on these choices, agency availability and the goodness of fit between student learning goals and the practice setting. In almost all cases, students receive one of their three choices. In instances where this does not happen, the Field Department works individually with the student to find an appropriate placement that meets her/his learning goals.

Can I create my own field placement?

The Field Instruction Department is always interested in developing new placements. Students who are aware of potential new sites should inform the director or assistant director of field instruction. The department will assess those sites to determine if they are appropriate for social work student placements and for which level of placement. Students may contact agencies directly to initially explore the agency’s interest in a student intern, however, once interest is expressed the student must then contact the field department for further exploration.  Students may not finalize a field placement at any placement site. The Field Instruction Department must arrange all placements. There is one way in which you can create your own placement: M.S.W. students can propose to do one of their two placements in their agency of employment and the department has a format to follow in doing this.

Can my placement be arranged for evening and/or weekend hours?

There are only a few agencies each year that offer professionally staffed social work services solely during evenings and weekends. As a result, the vast majority of both full- and part-time students must be prepared to do their field instruction practicum hours in an agency during normal business hours when an M.S.W. who is qualified to be a field instructor is on duty and available to the student.

Do I need a car?

In conjunction with the movement of health, mental health and family services towards community-based models of practice and service delivery (e.g., outreach, home visits and community care) most placements require that students have a car to perform their field assignments. Not having a car limits field placement options.

Can I do field work at my current place of employment?

Full- and part-time M.S.W. students may submit a proposal to complete one of their field placements in the social service agency where they are employed. The practicum experience itself will have to differ significantly from the student’s current or previous agency experience. Students will need to have a field instructor who has not been their supervisor in the agency and move to a program, service or different client population while learning new intervention methods.

What is the difference between a faculty adviser, a faculty field liaison and a field instructor?

Faculty advisers are members of the School of Social Work faculty who advise students on all academic matters.

Faculty field liaisons are full- and part-time faculty of the School of Social Work who are members of the Field Instruction Department. Faculty Field Liaisons are primarily responsible for facilitating field teaching and student learning, monitoring student progress and agency educational opportunities, fostering interchange between the school and the practice community, and evaluating student achievements and field instructor efforts. Faculty field liaisons make a minimum of two visits a semester to each placement agency to confer with the field instructor and student. Faculty field liaisons are responsible for determining students’ field grades.

Field instructors are agency staff members with an M.S.W. degree who have completed at least two years of post-master’s supervised social work practice. Field instructors provide both administrative and educational supervision to their students in the agency. They do this by meeting individually with the student each week, reading process recordings and provide ongoing feedback on the student’s learning.

How does the school choose field instructors?

Field instructors are recommended to the school by agency administrators. Field instructors are chosen because of the agency’s commitment to social work education, their own individual qualifications and their interest in serving as agency-based educators. New field instructors are required to attend a field orientation offered by the school.

Does the school pay field instructors to work with students?

No. Most field instructors tell us their greatest reward comes from helping others develop professional knowledge and skill. Though we can never fully compensate field instructors for the teaching they do, some of the direct benefits include: (a) VCU Libraries privileges including access to library data bases, (b) an annual field instructors meeting and luncheon, (c) training in field instruction with CEUs offered at no charge and for those who serve a specified period of time, affiliate faculty status.

What if my agency is not what I expected or is not meeting my learning goals?

Once you have begun your field practicum in an agency, you should discuss any concerns you have about it directly with your field instructor first. If the concerns remain unresolved, you should involve your faculty field liaison as soon as possible. The director and assistant director of field also are available in such situations to engage in problem solving with you, your field instructor and/or your field liaison. In addition, your faculty adviser is always a resource for you.

What if I drop field after the first semester?

A student who withdraws from field instruction prior to successfully completing the entire two-semester placement must reapply to the director of field instruction to repeat the entire two-semester requirement.