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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?