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Educators of tomorrow: Graduating students encouraged to consider their future as both social work practitioners and educators in surprise ceremony at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

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In April, eleven second-year and advanced standing Master of Social Work students were surprised with a graduation ceremony and celebration in honour of completing their final practicum course at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

The in-person gathering to honor the June 2022 graduates was a first for Sunnybrook. Being keenly aware of the many sacrifices that students have made over the past two years due to the pandemic, Illana Perlman, who has been Education Practice Leader for Social Work at Sunnybook since 1999, was determined to do something special. But Perlman saw the event as more than a celebration — she also considered it “a passing of the torch.”

“Graduation is an important rite of passage,” says Perlman, who balances work in Sunnybrook’s Trauma unit with teaching and innovations in field education. “I thought it would be a nice way for our agency to not only mark this occasion but also welcome students to the field as both social work practitioners and educators.”

All professional social work programs at accredited institutions in Canada include practicum courses that allow students to apply their in-class knowledge in real-world settings. But these rich learning experiences wouldn’t be possible without field instructors — professional social workers who are able to supervise students in the field.

On the day of the surprise gathering, the graduating students walked into a room to the applause of their field instructors and the first-year students who also completed a practicum course at Sunnybrook that year. Cupcakes, baked by Perlman, and gift bags were presented to each student. In addition to hospital swag, a frame, and a congratulatory letter, the graduating students received a package of resources to help guide their future work, including articles on the benefits of being a field instructor and tips for best practices when educating MSW students.

Maddie Skidmore standing next to the FIFSW sign in front of the building at 246 Bloor Street.

Maddie Skidmore

“The graduation ceremony at Sunnybrook was meaningful in so many ways,” said MSW student Maddie Skidmore. “I think in particular, because we’ve completed all our classes over Zoom and through online platforms, celebrating the completion of this milestone surrounded by our supervisors, peers and mentors was extremely moving. I truly felt supported and celebrated.”

Fellow student Qin Wei agreed: “This ceremony meant a lot to me. I saw the respect, love, and care from Sunnybrook.”

Perlman says she hopes that the event helped students envision themselves as the educators of tomorrow. “I believe people have to be socialized into wanting to teach,” she says, adding that the benefits of doing so are unequivocal. “As a field instructor, you have the opportunity to not only influence the practice of the next generation of social workers, but also maintain a connection to FIFSW and all its resources, including ongoing professional development opportunities.”

Qin Wei

Qin Wei

Looking back on her practicum II course at Sunnybrook, Wei says her field instructor helped provide her with a solid foundation for a career in social work, through journal article readings, community client interviews, interprofessional team collaboration, acute unit shadowing, clinical report writing and more. In April, she started a position at WoodGreen Community Services, and this fall, she will start her PhD in social work at York University. She hopes to integrate her academic research with frontline practice, and will consider being a field instructor as well.

Skidmore is now working at Sunnybrook as a social worker in the General Internal Medicine program. She says she will absolutely consider being a field instructor in the future.

“The field instructor role is hugely impactful on the education of the newer generation of social workers,” she says. “My practicum experience was a crucial part of my learning as a young social worker. My field instructors as well as the professional practice lead and the education coordinator were all key players in providing a memorable and meaningful practicum experience. For me, practicum was a safe place to begin to apply and practice skills that began in the classroom.”


Did you know? 

Master of Social Work graduates are now eligible to become field instructors during their first year in the field.

For those worried that they may not have enough experience to bring to the role, Perlman says that even less practiced professionals have valuable insight and support to give. She learned this first hand as an undergraduate student in South Africa, where teaching was built into the curriculum. There, fourth year students were required to supervise those in first year. This helped her understand the valuable role she could play despite not yet being a seasoned practitioner, and underlined her support for allowing new graduates to take on the field instructor role.


Learn how Illana Perlman is helping spearhead innovations in field education