I finally met people that thought the same way as me

Social work student Clare Patrick talks about her journey to becoming a social worker, what motivates her and the concerns of social work students.

This Q&A was first published in Professional Social Work Magazine – the content has been re-ordered to reflect the interests of prospective social work students.

social work student Clare Patrick
Social work student Clare Patrick

How would you describe your experience of being a social work student so far?

I am coming towards the end of my first year as a BA Social Work Student at The University of Hull and for me the experience has been, without sounding too clichéd, rather like finding my calling.

The lecturers, my peers, the guest speakers, everyone is so motivating, and the environment is so supportive.

This journey has given me so much newfound confidence. I’ve found that being proud of yourself does wonders for your self-confidence and throughout my social work journey I hope that I can use this knowledge to help others in promoting their own feelings of self-worth too.

The learning I do I feel privileged to undertake and I can – hand on heart – say I have found something that I am so happy to do every day.

I walked into the University, and after a few weeks found that I had finally met the people who thought the same way as me. I have loved learning and I couldn’t be happier with my experience so far, and I am really excited for the future.

What have you enjoyed most in your studies?

Learning about the theories, models and methods that influence and underpin the decisions of a social worker has been one of the most enjoyable factors of study for me.

The learning has provided such valuable insight into enabling me to work in a holistic way, which looks at circumstances from angles that I wouldn’t have perhaps considered before I started my social work journey.

The illumination of these perspectives has facilitated my ability to look beyond the surface and engage with the unseen factors in people’s lives that might be influencing their circumstances.

Understanding society, its structures and the micro and macro-levels which operate amongst these structures, and which contribute to and even perpetuate inequalities has allowed me to think in a way which facilitates my ability to convey unconditional positive regard. As a result of this I believe I will be able to successfully support people in a respectful, non-judgmental and dignity-upholding manner. I believe this will prove invaluable to me as a social worker.

Students in front of the Allam Medical Building
"I have loved learning and I couldn’t be happier with my experience so far, and I am really excited for the future"

What have you found most challenging in your studies?

Even though learning has been one of the most enjoyable factors of study for me, it has also been the most challenging. The sheer volume of content and some of the distressing material can be hard to process and digest. As student social workers we are continually being challenged, and we are often discussing emotive and sometimes uncomfortable topics, however, the process of building resilience is never an easy one. This has fed into the reasons as to why I have become a student ambassador, as I believe that these experiences and learning curves are ones that must be shared throughout the social work student community.

Has being a social work student changed you and if so in what way?

Absolutely, I believe that I am now a more rounded person both personally and professionally who can use their enthusiasm to support others.

The course has amplified my natural empathetic qualities and has informed my awareness regarding the influences that can contribute to inequity like oppression, social exclusion, discrimination, structural disadvantage, socio-economic conditions, and political context etc.

Having an awareness of these factors has broadened my thinking and makes me a more capable and competent professional who can challenge social injustices and have confident and informed discussions about such.

What do you hope to achieve in your professional life as a social worker?

I would love for everyone I interact with to be able to take something positive from their interaction with me, however small.

I would hope for everyone to feel more enabled and happier as a result, but I know this won’t always be the case.

Ultimately, I would like to direct my efforts into helping the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society by using my platform as an agent of positive change.

To recognise people’s strengths and help people build on them by supporting them to find the tools within themselves to ignite their own spark.

This spark may then illuminate a pathway for them, taking them on an empowering journey which enables and facilitates positive transformation in their lives and perhaps even becomes a lighthouse for others who are in need. That would be the ultimate achievement.

students library
"The course has amplified my natural empathetic qualities and has informed my awareness regarding the influences that can contribute to inequity"

What do your family and friends think about your choice of career?

My mum, who has been a carer for the elderly all her life said she is very proud of me, but she does worry due to the very emotive nature of the career and the danger of burnout.

She also expressed her worry over the public’s perception of social workers and the picture that is painted in the media of us, which facilitates the notion of being damned if we do, dammed if we don’t.

Overall, my family and friends are so very supportive and are happy that I am dedicating my life towards helping and supporting others.

I feel incredibly lucky to have the support network that I do.

Tell us a bit about BASW’s social work ambassador scheme.
(The BASW is the professional association for social work and social workers)

The aim of the BASW student ambassador scheme is to provide an essential channel between social work students and BASW itself, ensuring that BASW is representing the voice of social work students nationally and even internationally. BASW’s ambassadors aim to provide social work students with a more holistic and informed understanding of how BASW can assist and support people who have chosen social work as a vocation.

Our diverse team of student ambassadors aim to capture the voices of social work students so that their ideas and concerns can be shared, and their reflections and experiences illuminated.

Why did you become a student ambassador?

Having myself experienced life and its challenges and having not always found it an easy journey, I have developed an insight which has driven me to be motivated toward changing my life direction but also toward supporting others.

Covid has brought about a time of immense adaptation, challenge and even trauma, and for many, this continues to be the case.

The opportunity therefore to be a part of sending a message which embodies unity and promotes interconnectivity is something that I really connect with and feel passionately about.

I believe that we as social workers share values and experiences which are profound, and at times, life changing, yet we often do so through that of a computer screen or even in isolation.

Therefore, the chance to help build a scheme which will illuminate a network whereby our mutuality, connection and shared human experiences are shared is what motivated me to become involved with the scheme.

The student ambassador position, as a part of my social work career, will enable me to give back to others through taking the next step in a personal journey in which I can and want to empower others. Through connection and a kind heart I feel I will be able to help in bringing about positive change to others.

"The student ambassador position, as a part of my social work career, will enable me to give back to others through taking the next step in a personal journey"

What do you hope to achieve in the role?

Social work is a rewarding yet tough career choice, we offer up ourselves to others, working with the very core of human experience, all while bringing congruence, compassion and empathy to these interactions.

We bring ourselves, knowing that we must be authentic to build meaningful relationships where positive change can be facilitated, but we also know that burn-out is a very real possibility.

As social work students we embark on the journey of learning the vital skill which allows us to manage and balance being both emotionally available whilst also being resilient.

With emotional intelligence in mind and the advocation of self-care, I hope to help in building a network which works for and validates the experiences and emotions of the social work student.

In building these bridges and through the embodiment of BASW’s values and ethics, I in turn hope that collectively, we can bring about a sense connection throughout the social work student community and create a network which can be sought out by all student social workers to build on BASW’s desire to offer support and promote inclusion.

Tell us about some of the issues and concerns social work students have…

To answer this question, I wanted to reflect the overarching issues and concerns of students accurately and authentically, and so I consulted with my course representatives who have a great rapport with the students at my University and a significant understanding of the overall student voice within my cohort.

The issues fed back to me included overshadowing worries about finances, struggles to fit studies around family life and work commitments, anxieties over making friends and self-doubt over being able to keep up with other peers academically.

I believe that these issues and concerns will ultimately help shape the development of the ambassador scheme in the way that ambassadors can tailor their efforts in supporting students based on the feedback that they receive.

In doing so, the ambassador scheme will create a platform where student concerns can be raised and in turn advocated for, thus raising awareness of such concerns and perhaps then, even ultimately preventing them.

* Clare is a student representative under BASW’s pilot ambassador scheme.

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