Student Spotlight: Tracy Hirst, MSW Program

Tracy Hirst

Tracy Hirst, MSW Program

Tracy Hirst is the Director of Social Services at a nursing home in Maine. Here, she talks about how the UNE Online SOS field experience model has given the skills that help in her day-to-day job and has also allowed her to gain skills to advance her career.

Can you tell us about yourself and what encouraged you to pursue your Master of Social Work?

I’m the Director of Social Services at an 85-bed nursing facility here in Maine. My department does patient intakes and discharges, as well as all types of mental health assessments for each resident in the building. We are very strong advocates of the person-centered program for Maine, and we work hard to provide person-centered care.

Since I currently run my own department and work full time, I needed the flexibility of an online program to pursue my Master of Social Work.

You just finished up your fieldwork experience using the new Simulation and On-Site (SOS) model. Can you talk about that experience?

I definitely enjoyed the SOS Virtual Field Simulation program experience, and I feel that the SOS model was able to bridge the gap between learning social work concepts and theories, and then being able to apply that new knowledge.

I learned a great deal during my 16-week virtual field placement. It was very hands-on, and I enjoyed being able to run my own clinical counseling sessions, which allowed me to apply my knowledge in the field and determine what worked for my clients and what didn’t.

In my daily work life, and in most of the regular field placements, there is no opportunity for one-on-one clinical therapy sessions because of HIPAA, and it’s a lot for an individual counselor to take on a student for field placement.

It was very valuable for me to experience the clinical counseling aspect of social work during my virtual field placement, and I feel fortunate to have been given an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the SOS program.

Did you find the SOS virtual field placement model to be a valuable experience?

Yes, and I hope in the future, UNE chooses to continue on with the SOS model. I know it was rolled out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I would recommend continuing to offer the experience as an option in the curriculum.

Since I’ve served in many different social work roles, I anticipated that my field placement would essentially be learning another job and getting to experience a different facet of the field of social work.

I was specifically looking for clinical supervision in my field placement, and I found the SOS model was helpful with that.

What did you do during your field placements?

My first placement was at another nursing home, where I assisted in administering a group counseling program. My second field placement, before the SOS, focused on family therapy for people coping with Alzheimer’s disease.

How does earning an MSW help you in your daily work life?

I learned skills in this program that we use here in the facility to give one-on-one and group therapy sessions. Down the road, I hope to do use my skills to offer independent counseling.

Did you feel like a part of a community as you were going through school?

Yes. My Student Support Specialist and my instructors were always super helpful with any questions I had. I definitely hit some roadblocks with trying to find field placements and trying to kind through those logistics. But they were always super helpful in guiding me through the process.

How did you feel about your work-life balance as you went through the program?

I’ve always worked full-time, and I think that the program is very manageable. I found the most challenging part to be the field placements, but you just push through.

I think that’s part of being a social worker – and being involved in the social work community – no matter what obstacles you have, you overcome them.

If you could give future MSW students a piece of advice, what would that be?

Make sure that you’re doing a field placement that you really think that you might do outside. Continue to push yourself towards your goal and your area of interest. Graduate-level field placement is the perfect time to practice what works well and what doesn’t and to really develop your social work skills.

Finally, focus on time management – make a schedule and stick to it – and just don’t give up!


Learn more about UNE’s online Master of Social Work


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