At the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, we understand the importance of field education as part of the online Master of Social Work curriculum. We are also always looking for ways to integrate the latest technological innovations into our online program. With these two goals in mind, we developed a revolutionary way to begin each MSW@USC student’s field education: the Virtual Field Practicum (VFP).
How it Works
VFP takes place in the MSW@USC’s intimate virtual classroom. A small-group class session, each VFP is supervised by a USC professor. You will work with a live actor who plays the role of a client in a clinical setting. The “client” is trained to portray someone in crisis, offering you the chance to consider strategies of practice in a safe, supervised setting and receive in-the-moment coaching and support from faculty and classmates.
The VFP does not replace your field internship requirement. Instead, you will spend 210 hours in the VFP setting before completing your field education requirement in a community-based setting.
VFP sessions are supervised by professors.
Students build skills and confidence before beginning their internships.
A trained actor plays a client in need of support and resources.
Skills and Strategies
Through virtual and real-world field education, you will gain evidence-based training to master the following:
Clinical case-management skills
Client risk assessment
Interventions, including motivational interviewing, problem-solving therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy
Ethical decision-making skills
Professional code of ethics
Perhaps just as important as the skills you gain in the VFP is the confidence you will build, allowing you to begin your community-based field placement equipped with the tools you need to make an immediate impact.
This video features USC professors explaining motivational interviewing and demonstrating how students will learn to use this modality with clients.
How placements are determined: Factors include your department, an agency’s ability to accept you and a qualified MSW field instructor’s willingness to supervise. Specific field experiences are not required for the military track; only students residing on base are candidates for placement on base.
Identifying placement sites: While traditional MSW students are enrolled in the VFP, they will receive an email when a community-based field placement site has been identified. Advanced standing students receive this email while completing bridge courses. This email has placement information and a request to contact your assigned agency for a pre-placement visit. After receiving the email, you must immediately contact your field instructor to schedule a preliminary meeting to discuss the hours of your internship, orientation and trainings, and begin satisfying the specific agency requirements and clearances. In most cases, all agency requirements and clearances must be completed prior to working directly with clients.
Clearance requirements: Before starting the community-based field placement, traditional MSW students must complete the VFP requirements. Many agencies require fingerprinting, criminal clearance and tuberculosis (TB) testing. Some agencies require proof of car insurance, a good driving record, a medical evaluation and/or drug testing. These are additional costs that may be incurred by the student. Please discuss the clearance requirements and any required trainings/orientation with your agency during your pre-placement meeting.
Employer-based placements: If approved, your place of employment may be considered a community-based field placement. A consideration for an agency of employment request must meet the following criteria:
All of the required field hours must take place under the supervision of an MSW field instructor who is not the student’s employment supervisor and meets the standards of our program.
The field instruction assignment must be different from the student’s regular work assignment.
The activities themselves must constitute new learning for the student, e.g., working with a new population or utilizing a new treatment methodology in a new field of practice.
The student’s educational goals should be the primary focus of this request, not simply the needs of the agency.
The location of the assigned work space for the field placement should be a different location than the assigned work space for the role of employee.
An administrative review and approval is required for such requests. Additional information may be requested; however, we are unable to guarantee that your agency of employment can serve as your placement. If you are interested in learning more about whether your agency could serve as a field placement, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and a member of our placement support team will contact you to discuss your specific situation.
International placements: Community-based field placements are not secured outside the United States. The only field placement assignment available to students living or moving outside the United States is Telehealth, a clinical placement that operates on a virtual system. A placement with Telehealth is a highly sought-after opportunity that will allow you to participate in intensive training, work directly with a licensed clinical social worker and provide one-on-one counseling to adults. The interview process is demanding, and there are strict requirements for your internet speed and availability in Pacific Standard Time (PST). For more information, contact an admissions counselor at 1-877-700-4679.
Placement schedule: Community-based field placements most often occur on weekdays during regular business hours (Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.). Students must make adjustments to accommodate a weekday schedule. If you require evening/weekend hours, your placement may be delayed due to the limited number of agencies that provide appropriate supervision during those hours. We cannot guarantee placements at alternate times. If your community-based field placement begins late, you will receive updates from the field placement team and are expected to work with your field liaison and field instructor to determine how you will meet the required hours for your practicum. In some circumstances, this might mean additional hours per week or an extended length of time with the agency.
Travel/transportation: The first semester of field education for traditional MSW students is through the VFP, so no travel is required. For your community-based field placement, we make every attempt to locate an educationally appropriate placement as close to your residence as possible, and we seek to place you within 30 miles from your home. At times, the best placement match is farther from your home than you may prefer. You are required to be able to travel up to 30 miles to your placement site. If you do not have a vehicle, the number of options for your community-based field placement will be limited, and not having a vehicle may delay securing your placement. If you have travel restrictions or need special accommodations, contact the university’s disability office for assistance.
Evaluation: You will be evaluated by the field instructor and field liaison and will receive a grade for each semester of field practicum (including traditional MSW students’ VFP semester).
Compensation: The VFP and most of our community-based field placement agencies do not provide a stipend or salary for students. While some agencies offer stipends for language ability or other special circumstances, we do not select agencies based on whether a stipend is provided, but rather on the type of learning opportunities available to students. Because we do not require agencies to compensate students, a stipend or salary is never guaranteed.
Deferment/leave of absence: If you take one, you must notify the registrar's office of your return at least eight weeks before the start of the semester in order for the field placement team to secure a community-based agency placement. We cannot guarantee that your initial interview sites will be available upon your return to placement.
Special circumstances: If you have circumstances that impede your community-based field placement, you must alert the field placement team of any special circumstances as soon as possible so they can make appropriate placement assignments without jeopardizing your confidentiality or the agency requirements. Examples include lack of transportation, limited hours of availability for the field practicum/internship and felony convictions. If you are not forthcoming about this information or the nature of your special circumstance, it may impede or significantly reduce placement options available in your community and create a delay in securing your placement.
Questions: MSW@USC students should contact their regional director, and prospective students should contact their admissions counselor.