Amy Colver, LCSW
Melody Griffith, MSW, LMSW, OSW-C
AOSW Communications Director
Jeanice Hansen, LCSW, OSW-C
To submit a story or information for inclusion in a future issue of AOSW Newsletter, contact Amy Colver or Melody Griffith on the list above.
Resources: Serving as “Field Faculty”—Clinical Supervision and Mentorship in Oncology Social Work
With the arrival of each new school year, many AOSW members take on new interns at the bachelor, master, and doctorate levels. Supervision in practice is an essential component of the social work field. Some may argue that the unique hands-on experience we gain in practice (i.e., managing caseloads, performing psychosocial assessments, and applying theory and treatment interventions) is perhaps more valuable than our classroom learning. I believe that supervisors are truly “field faculty,” as we hold such an important and integral role in the education and learning of our social work students. We were all mentored, whether through positive or challenging relationships, throughout our social work educational experience. Serving as a clinical supervisor not only helps train our next generation of oncology social workers, but subsequently honors our past mentors as we “give back” to our field.
How can we promote a comprehensive learning experience for oncology social work students?
Within our cancer center at the University of Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have developed an interactive learning program for about a dozen social work interns each year. We provide several opportunities for them to process their experiences with each other, including a weekly student group with interns placed in all specialties throughout the hospital, as well as a smaller, monthly clinical oncology student seminar for a more in-depth debrief. Our students are also required to create a capstone project (i.e., transportation resource guide, support group series for staff) to focus and convey an aspect of their learning with the agency. If you are fortunate to have other supervisors at your cancer center, chat with them about ways to improve and grow your social work student program. For example, my colleagues and I are focusing on organizing and streamlining our intern orientation program this year. This includes training in the electronic medical record, reviewing our integrative medicine program and relevant resources, as well as arranging tours at our local Hope Lodge.
TIP: Think outside the box. Consider how students could contribute to your department or social work program. For example, research and pursue funding opportunities for social work students, such as American Cancer Society grants for Social Work Training, Research, and Career Development.
How do we become effective and competent clinical supervisors?
Even after supervising students in hospice and palliative care for several years, I was not fully confident in my skill set as a clinical supervisor. As a result, I sought advance training through a clinical supervision certificate program with my local clinical social work society. In the course, we analyzed numerous supervisory models, gained an understanding of parallel processes in supervision, and reflected on our personal supervisory style in order to provide insight into our unique supervision philosophies.
TIP: Contact the field education office at your local university or college for suggestions on clinical supervision courses. Some social work programs offer seminars for new field instructors or can connect you with local supervision trainings in the community.
How can I seek support with a challenging intern?
Social work students need a safe place to reflect on their learning and interactions with patients, but we, the field faculty, also require support in our role. We all want our social work interns to be successful in their oncology field placement, but sometimes there are bumps and challenges that impede the learning experience. It is important to maintain close contact with your student’s field liaison and/or practice faculty. Verbalize your concerns with the student and insist on an on-site field placement visit early. The social work program and practice team really do value their field faculty and want to support you as much as their students.
TIP: Spend time with your intern within the first few weeks of placement on collaborating and tailoring their student-learning contract. This contract dictates the mutual responsibility and commitment of both intern and field faculty. Revisit the learning contract several times throughout the year to ensure that learning goals are being met.
So I challenge you all, both new and veteran supervisors, to take on your social work interns with a fresh outlook this year! Set out to make some new goals for your oncology students and internship program. Make it a priority to honor your weekly individual clinical supervision appointment time with your student. Try integrating conversation around professional development and career goals based on your student’s individual strengths and interests. Our expertise in the social work field is valuable and our mentorship of oncology interns makes a difference in their educational experience! View your role beyond just being a supervisor and instead, embrace your identity as a member of the field faculty.