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Demanding Placements for Social Work Students

Tiffany Dookhan says her MSW field placement at CAMH was an amazing learning experience. It was also a good career move, for two days after completing her placement she was hired as a social worker with CAMH's Crisis Service.

"I learned most of the skills for my current job in my placement including how to work with families, build community partnerships, advocate for resources and talk to the professionals involved with patient care including their family doctor and caseworkers,” Tiffany says. 

“The demand for placements at CAMH is soaring," says Colleen Kelly, CAMH’s Discipline Chief Social Work-Professional Practice, who was at CAMH for her own MSW field placement in 1986. "CAMH places the largest number of student social workers in Canada receiving requests for student placements from all over the world,” she says. So far in the 2013-2014 school year, 39 MSW students and 11 BSW students are fulfilling their placement requirements at CAMH and more will be starting in January. 

When Elizabeth Holmes, a social worker in CAMH’s Law and Mental Health program, started working as an Educational Coordinator 15 years ago, there were only two or three social work students at what was then the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. Today, she is responsible for 15 MSW placement students in CAMH’s Complex Mental Illness program. She attributes the increase in demand to “a little bit less stigma about mental health and addictions," in part due to the CAMH Foundation’s Transforming Lives public relations campaign. "Also, we are seen as a teaching centre for people who want a really good education in mental health and addictions,” she says.

As one of three MSW and one BSW Educational Coordinators, Elizabeth helps students settle in, ensures they have the necessary office space and equipment, recruits field instructors from among CAMH social workers and acts as the liaison between the student, CAMH and the school. She also helps students connect with areas of the hospital where they might have an interest for a second placement or future employment, sometimes arranging opportunities to job shadow. 

Enriching clinical experience

“Social work as a field is respected and celebrated at CAMH. Students who do their placements here are lucky with how varied and vast the social work opportunities are,” says Jodi Wolff, social worker in the Assessment and Brief Treatment clinic in the Addictions service. Jody is the Educational Coordinator for students in CAMH’s Mood and Anxiety, Problem Gambling and Addictions services. She says social work students at CAMH get a lot of clinical experience. They also attend inter-professional training sessions on such topics as diversity, anti-harassment and anti-bullying, ethics, conducting mental status assessments, family work and Prevention and Management of Aggressive Behaviour.
Social workers
(L-R) Social Work Students Elena Polyanovsky, Samantha Viti, Kirsten Johnson, Elyse Grieco and Sara Abura

Working at CAMH

Not only do students receive excellent training, some come to work at CAMH.

“We often end up hiring our students not only because they are familiar with our systems but also because of their exceptional clinical skill-set and dedication to the clients we serve,” says Evelyn Neilas, social worker with CAMH’s Medical Withdrawal Service and the Educational Coordinator for students in CAMH’s Underserved Populations and Access and Transitions. Since 2011, CAMH has hired around 40 social workers with 70 per cent having done their placements here.

While CAMH social workers require MSWs, students with BSWs sometimes get hired as counsellors. Amanda King, the BSW Educational Coordinator and an Addiction Therapist and interim manager of CAMH's women’s inpatient unit, says, "The BSW placements are often the students’ first clinical placement providing them an opportunity to begin to consolidate the social work theories they learn in the classroom into practical evidence-based skills.”

Jane Paterson, Director, Interprofessional Practice says, “Colleen and I have worked hard with our educational coordinators and field instructors to ensure our social work students receive an excellent education with the knowledge of best practices that they can implement wherever they may work throughout the world.”

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