Training Imitating Actual Practice

John Donne penned the often-quoted line “No man is an island entire of itself”. Similarly, most of us are familiar with the African proverb “it takes a village”. One of my personal favorites is a quote from Aristotle “nature abhors a vacuum”. As clinical social workers we come alongside individuals, couples, and families at some of their most challenging times; but we don’t do the work alone. We collaborate with our clients, their families, support systems, community resources, other providers and the list goes on. We recognize that healing happens best when we engage our clients within a larger restorative community.

As an academic and as a clinician, it has always troubled me that while social workers practice in community, we train almost exclusively in silos. CSWE codified the importance of interprofessional education (IPE) and interprofessional collaboration through its EPAS. However, research continues to indicate that the majority of student exposure to interprofessional collaboration occurs almost exclusively through field and supervision. The social work classroom has been underutilized as an interprofessional collaborative opportunity. It doesn’t need to remain that way.

During the past two years, I have been reenergized as an educator by the privilege of collaborating with academics from disciplines including nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nutrition, athletic training, and others. Through classroom simulations, nursing simulation labs, table talk discussions, unfolding simulations, and panels, social work students have been able to engage in collaborative learning with students from these other disciplines. Partnering with faculty from other professions to provide these learning opportunities has connected me with new colleague who are similarly concerned about preparing students for the collaborative practice environment. For the first time in my academic career, I feel as if I am engaging with other disciplines in a manner consistent with the real world practice of social work. The student response to these interprofessional learning opportunities has been highly positive. They have requested we expand our offerings and I plan to indulge that request.

If you are a social work educator and possibly feeling stuck in your silo, I would encourage you to use your highly honed collaborative skills and reach out to like-minded colleagues from other disciplines. Reenergize your teaching and clinical practice and prepare students for the interprofessional environment they have ahead of them. I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it can make. 

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