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How to Find a Practicum Placement in Social Work – BSW and MSW Students

If you’re a BSW or MSW student, you may need a practicum placement to complete your social work degree. When I was an MSW (Master of Social Work) student at UBC (the University of British Columbia) in Vancouver, I was one of the last BSW and MSW students to find a practicum placement.

I wrote this article four years ago, when I was actively searching for tips on how to find a social work practicum placement. I successfully completed two practicum placements and earned my MSW! The rest of this article is told from my perspective while searching for a practicum. If you have any questions about social work placements, feel free to ask in the comments section below…I may not have the answers, but it never hurts to ask 🙂 

I’m told that my expectations are too high. My practicum advisor and the placement coordinator at UBC tell me I won’t get a placement in the field of my choice (a hospital, clinic, or health organization). I don’t have any healthcare or social work experience, and the three organizations they tried won’t take first year MSW students. The advisor and the practicum coordinator are both encouraging me to take a placement of their choice, so I get the social work experience I need.

If you’re not sure about graduate school, read Should You Go to Grad School for a Master of Social Work (MSW)? Below are a few tips on finding practicum placements for those of you already in grad school…

Since I’m in my first year of my MSW, next year is also a concern (for me). I’m worried that if I take any old placement this year, I won’t get the hospital or healthcare experience I need for my second year. And, I really want to be at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver for my second year…but they won’t take me if I don’t have healthcare experience! It’s a vicious cycle.

At the beginning of the semester, all the BSW and MSW students were told not to contact possible practicum placements directly. We were to fill out a Sample Field Placement Request and send our resume to the practicum coordinator. Now, however, I’m allowed to contact social workers, health organizations, and whatever organizations I hope to be placed with. The practicum coordinator has her hands full with more social work students than she’s ever had in the past, and I’m left to my own devices. At first I was disappointed, but now I’m enjoying the process.

Tips on Finding a Practicum Placement in Social Work

I know I’ll find a hospital or healthcare placement, because I’ve been calling social workers and healthcare organizations directly. They are incredibly encouraging and supportive, which surprised me (I thought I’d hear the same things I did when I met with my practicum advisor and the placement coordinator at UBC). Instead, the social workers in the field told me to keep advocating for myself – which I really appreciated! They were encouraging and supportive.

If you’re looking for a social work practicum placement…

  • Ask for permission from your program advisor or practicum coordinator before you start calling organizations, social workers, or counselors.
  • Don’t disrespect or criticize the BSW or MSW program, your practicum supervisor, or the placement coordinator.
  • Remember that you are a valuable commodity, and many social workers enjoy having practicum students (a social worker told me this, and I know it’s true).
  • Ask every social worker you call if they are willing to discuss a possible practicum placement. Be prepared to answer their questions, which range from “Why do you want to be a social worker?” to “How many days a week can you work?”
  • Update your resume, and ask if you can email it to them – even if they can’t take a practicum student. You never know when and if it’ll be referred to.
  • Ask every social worker for the name of an organization or person who might take on a practicum student. Then, tell that social worker that you were referred by X.
  • Start at the top – the practicum placements you’d LOVE to work at. Work your way down.
  • Stay in touch with the practicum coordinator and your placement supervisor. Keep them apprised of the organizations and social workers you’re talking to.

I spent two hours calling hospitals, clinics, and healthcare organizations. A social work placement didn’t magically materialize, but two social workers said they may have a place for me and asked me to send their resume. I sent two other social workers my resume, just in case they have an opening in the future.

When my practicum supervisor and placement coordinator at UBC told me they wouldn’t be able to place me in a healthcare setting, I was so disappointed and frustrated. They said it was because of me – my lack of experience and high expectations for a social work placement. They also said the healthcare system is very closed right now, and healthcare placements are very difficult to find.

But, after making 9 phone calls, I really believe I’ll find a healthcare placement with a social worker. I think my practicum supervisor and placement coordinator are wrong…and I really hope to prove it!

Sample Cover Letter to the Clinical Practice Lead (Social Worker) at a Hospital

Dear Ms MacDonald,

I hope this finds you well! My name is Laurie Kienlen; I’m an MSW student at UBC, and am looking for a practicum placement. I can work 2 days a week (Saturdays and evenings are fine), and can start now, in January, or even next spring.

My resume is attached, and here is a “snapshot” of me:

health practicum vancouver bc social workersMy undergraduate degrees are in Psychology and Education. I taught grade 8 at an American school in Africa for three years, and am comfortable with people of different cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles. I’m highly adaptable, and enjoy the challenge of new experiences. I have personal experience with ulcerative colitis, infertility, and schizophrenia (my mother struggled with it throughout my life).

My long-term career goal is to work with people coping with chronic illness. Short-term, I’m hoping for a practicum placement that will enhance my social work and counseling skills. I want to learn how to advocate for people, and support them as they learn how to advocate for themselves. I’d love to lead group programs or workshops, develop my case management skills, and assess and treat issues that illness can bring.

In my previous job as a Mentoring Coordinator with Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, I conduct Family Assessments and Volunteer Interviews. I matched mentors with at-risk children and youth, and monitored the matches. I maintained up-to-date case notes in both the digital Case Management System and the print files. I believe I’ve developed the ability to establish rapport with people quickly, so they feel comfortable opening up to me. Melissa Wilson was my supervisor; I encourage you to call her for a reference.

I have strong interpersonal skills – my work experience has taught me how to communicate effectively with parents, guardians, youth, and fellow employees. I enjoy working as part of a team, and welcome feedback and correction. I can organize, prioritize, and do my work with little supervision. That said, however, I am the first to ask for help, support, and guidance when I need it! My written and verbal communication skills are strong, and I’ve learned the importance of dealing with people tactfully.

And finally, I live in North Vancouver (Deep Cove). I have a car, and can travel wherever necessary.

I welcome the opportunity to meet with you in person! Please call or email me at your convenience.


Laurie Kienlen


If you have any thoughts or questions on finding a practicum placement in social work, please comment below!

And if you haven’t written a cultural identity paper yet, read How to Write a Self-Identity Paper for Social Work Class.


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15 thoughts on “How to Find a Practicum Placement in Social Work – BSW and MSW Students”

  1. Hi Sandy,

    I’m not currently working as a social worker; my two social work practicum placements showed me that I didn’t want to work in social services! And that’s excellent. They were good training, great field experience, and interesting settings. And they helped me find my way to the work I do now, which is what I love: blogging and writing books. My first book – Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back – will be released in January, 2019 🙂

    As far as my practicum placements through UBC: I worked with the Alzheimer’s Society and the Union Gospel Mission, in the mens alcohol and drug recovery unit, eastside Vancouver. They were very different experiences, which is perfect. I learned alot from both, and could’ve stayed on longer with both of them if I wanted. But, I decided not to stay in social work.

    When you’re looking for a practicum placement, remember that the connections you make with social workers, counselors, therapists, and other professionals are extremely valuable. A practicum placement isn’t just about getting social work experience, it’s about talking to future coworkers, managers, supervisors, etc. Even if you don’t really like the idea of a particular placement, it might take you a step farther in your social work career.

    Of course, there are no guarantees! Some of my fellow social work students (MSW program) had amazing on-paper placements at hospitals and prisons, but the field experience turned out to be not as good as it “should” have been. Sometimes the supervisors aren’t interested or helpful or smart, sometimes the clients aren’t cooperative, sometimes the wind just doesn’t blow your way.

    I hope this helps! Out of curiosity, what is your ideal practicum placement in social work?

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m currently in a BSW program experiencing similar issues. I lack work experience and also have been told my top picks are not likely. I would be interested in hearing how your experience turned out and if youre currently working as a social worker or in the field.


  3. Welcome to Vancouver, Wunmi! And congratulations on finishing your BSW and starting your social work placement in the spring. Practicums can be so rewarding and interesting, especially for newcomers to the Lower Mainland or Greater Vancouver.

    If I were you, I’d talk to the Practicum Placement Coordinator before contacting specific social work organizations. Some organizations aren’t “allowed” to have practicum students, or their staff isn’t qualified to supervise a social work student.

    I don’t know what Dalhousie’s distance education regulations are for social work students and practicums, but your best bet is to study those. And, as I said, talk to the coordinator so you get the most accurate and specific information.

    I also encourage you to join MeetUp groups and find ways to connect with other BSW students in Vancouver. Getting a BSW or MSW in social work can be demanding, especially if you’re new to a city. The more support you find, the happier and healthier you’ll be.

    Take care of yourself, and feel free to come back anytime. I can’t give advice about finding a practicum placement in social work through UBC or any other university, but I’d love to hear about your experience! And you may find that writing is a healthy and insightful way to work through the ups and downs of getting a social work degree 🙂

    All good things,

  4. Hi Laurie,
    It is so relieving to see your article. I am currently completing a BSW degree via distance at Dalhousie and I recently moved to Vancouver. I will be starting my placement by April all things being equal.
    I am facing a challeng of adjusting to a new environment as I scout for organizations to do my placement. I am interested in the aboriginal community, child protection and refugees and immigrants populations.
    Do you encourage calling organization in my area of interest?
    Your suggestions will be highly appreciated!
    Ps: I was super excited when I came across your article!

  5. Thanks, Kim – and congratulations on getting more than halfway through your BSW! That’s awesome.

    If I were you’d I’d definitely overreach. The worst that can happen is you don’t get the practicum placement you want, right? The best that can happen is that you’re successful, and your social work internship is exactly what you wanted.

    And, remember that there are very few perfect practicum placements in social work. If I remember correctly, most of my MSW peers (“cohort”) weren’t thrilled with their placements. A few were good, but it seemed like the majority weren’t as involved or educational as expected. One student’s placement was at a community centre, and she ended up sitting at the front reception desk for weeks!

    I hope your placement goes well — and remember that it really is what you make of it. That’s part of social work, taking what you get and making it into something better 🙂

    Enjoy the rest of your summer,

  6. Hi Laurie, I really appreciated your candidness in regards to your practicum challenged, and the tips were great! I’m a 3rd year BSW student through UVic distance education, and I live in the Fraser Valley. I’ve heard many of the same comments about healthcare placements at the BSW level. My goal area is mental health, but it seems that even mental health jobs in the Lower Mainland require an MSW at minimum, so I wonder if I might be overreaching for a BSW practicum placement. On the flip side, I have similar concerns to those you had, that if I don’t lay the groundwork now, they won’t consider me if/when I am and MSW student.

    Anyhow, I know you wrote this several years ago but just wanted to say how valid it still is, even for BSW students. 🙂

  7. Congratulations on being accepted into the MSW program at UBC, Tina! You must be super excited 🙂 When are you moving to Vancouver? I’d be happy to meet for a coffee or (better yet) a walk on the seawall when you get here!

    My practicum is good so far. It’s “light” in comparison to my fellow students, who are working with drug-addicted youth, in the psych ward of hospitals, etc. I’m fine with a lighter practicum because I won’t be working full-time as a social worker when I graduate. I just love being in school, love working on my blogs, love traveling….my MSW isn’t really to get a better job! It’s just to round out my life.

    Yes, you should definitely connect with the social work school about your placement. I encourage you to think more about your interests and future career, rather than a close placement. A close placement would be ideal, I know, but you have to balance that with getting the experience you need to be a strong practitioner.

    Stay in touch – let me know when you’re moving to Vancouver! And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

    All good things,

  8. Hi Laurie,
    Yes, I have been accepted into the program 🙂
    Distance wise I am okay with a under 30 minute bus ride. I am coming from a really small town, so the thought of travelling a long distance for placement worries me, lol. I will connect with the faculty of social work to see what my options are.

    How is your placement going?

    Thank you,

  9. Hi Tina,

    Yes, there are practicum placements on the UBC campus. There is a counseling centre on campus, and they accept practicum students. However, this year they required students to work 3 days a week — normally, we’re supposed to work 2 days a week. We have classes the other 2 days a week, and it’s good to have a day to keep up with readings and assignments.

    I’m not sure about placements close to campus – I guess it depends what you mean by “close”! Walking distance? A 20 minute bus ride? My placement is with the Alzheimer’s Society of Vancouver, and it’s 20 minutes by bus from UBC.

    I hope this helps! Have you been accepted into the MSW program?


  10. Hi Laurie,
    I was just wondering, for the MSW practicum’s are there options to do your placement somewhere on campus? Or even close to campus? I would prefer something close to UBC, especially because I will be living on campus. I am looking for counseling or clinical social work. Thank you,

  11. Thanks mpuppal, I really appreciate your thoughts! I agree that working with Muslim people would be very enlightening and interesting. I have a Little Sister through Big Sisters/Big Brothers organization, and she’s Muslim. I love her and her family.

    It’s just that I really want to work with people coping with chronic illness, and I was so hoping for a health-related practicum placement. I believe it’s possible to get one, but the practicum coordinator at UBC only works part-time, and is overworked. She doesn’t have time to find me the ideal placement.

    So, as interesting it would be to work with Muslims, I’m just hesitating because it’s not where I want to go professionally. Just like working with elderly people, homeless teenagers, prisoners, Aboriginals — they are all fascinating in their own way, but not what I’m passionate about.

    But I agree, a practicum placement with Muslims would be incredibly eye opening. I’ll go on my interview next week, and give it alot of thought.

  12. Hi Laurie,
    I just read about your predicament of not finding a placement of your choice for a practical program. But if I may give my opinion, I’d say an opportunity to work with Muslim immigrants will prove very enlightening for you. Muslims are unique culturally and interaction with them,understanding their problems in a foreign land and offering solutions will be more of a challenge as well as an eye opener in many ways.
    Good luck for your success!

  13. Next week I have an interview with a social worker who works with Muslim immigrants. Very nice lady, but it’s not a healthcare setting.

    Should I take it, or hold out and hope I get what I really want — a practicum placement at a hospital or clinic??? My practicum advisor and placement coordinator would say take it, because nothing better will come along.

    But I want to work in a field that inspires and motivates me…There is NOTHING wrong with Muslim immigrants; it’s just that they’re not my passion.

    Hmmm….what to do?

  14. It’s nice to know we’re not alone! 🙂

    Yes, you should definitely check in with the placement coordinator about your practicum as soon as possible! The longer you leave it, the more potential there is for misunderstandings, miscommunication, and mistakes. Plus, you have 450 hours to get under your belt…and the sooner you start, the better.

    That said, however, I think I want to start my practicum in April. I like my schedule as it is – I have social work classes 2 days a week, and I work on my blogs (and my assignments, of course!) the rest of the time. I love having the time to spend with my dog. I’d like to find a practicum placement for 2 or 3 days a week from April to August, over the summer. But the problem with that is many social workers take time off in the summer and may not be able to take a student at that time.

    So…it’s probably best to get a placement sorted out as soon as possible. I’m still working on mine, but I’m in regular contact with the placement coordinator.

  15. my goal is healthcare too, I still havent been placed…Im 3rd year bsw. so for me i still got some time, but i think its important for me to get AS much healthcare experience as I can..it makes me nervous. perhaps ill talk to the coordinator at school and see if i can get myself in. thanks for writing this it really made me feel better as i now know that I am not the only one struggling to find a placement in my area of interest. Good luck with everything!