Postgraduate VSW Certificate Program Graduate
What was the most beneficial part of completing the VSW-CP?
Of course, the educational content, community, and experience is incredibly beneficial. However, the most beneficial element was the ability to name my professional identity. In my second year of my doctoral program, I was challenged to plan my research trajectory and future career. I struggled to put a name to the “thing” I was interested in doing. I came across an article that talked about Veterinary Social Work. This was the first time I heard this term. I literally ran to my co-workers desk and said "there's a name for what I want to do! for who I want to be!" and then I said it: "Veterinary Social Work"! The more I read, the more I identified with my profession. I quickly moved from feeling like an outsider within social work practice, to understanding that I was part of a community forging a new path within the social work field. In my first meeting with Dr. Strand, I explained the importance of reading the very words “Veterinary Social Work”. Since completing the VSW-CP, I have continued to embrace the practice as a core element of my professional identity.
Is your career different than what you expected when you were in the VSW-CP?
I am fortunate to say that my career is just starting out! The integration of VSW in academic and research throughout social work is still considered an emergent field. Professional positions are just beginning to proliferate community and university settings. I recognize the privilege to be teaching a course, human-animal interactions in social work, that I created at Case Western Reserve University. Furthermore, it is an honor and privilege to be teaching the AAI module of the VSW-CP alongside my co-instructor Dr. Ng. Aside from academia and research, I work at a therapeutic horseback riding stable – Fieldstone Farm. This was an unexpected opportunity that came about as I was seeking to schedule my social work class’ fieldtrip. My position at the farm is the embodiment of VSW application. I engage in research, program evaluation, clinical work, and supervision. The position feels like a culmination of life-experiences to date, amplified by the experience of the VSW-CP. I am excited to explore the opportunities that continue to unfold as I progress in my professional career.
What lessons has your work taught you?
I learned that VSW is both a field of study as well as a professional identity. There is a vibrant community that is excited to engage in this work; a collaborative community with so many interests and intricacies. My peers have taught me to take pride in this work and membership. Work embodies teaching at University of Tennessee and Case Western Reserve University, programming at Fieldstone Farm, research of AAIs, and chairing the NASW Human-animal interaction workgroup - many roles! Teaching, program design/evaluation, community organizing, mentorship, and (eternal) student. My work has taught me that there is much work to do!
Do you have any long-term goals or dreams?
I have many! Long-term, my goal is to support social work education to integrate VSW content throughout the curricula. I avidly believe that all classes at the master’s level should include content in all courses. I also aim to (continue to) engage in rigorous and innovative research to move animal-assisted interactions towards an evidence-based practice. I see these as goals, not dreams, because they are both entirely realistic! I dream of finding myself professionally dedicated to the VSW practice, teaching in social work and creating community based experiential-learning opportunities for MSW/MSSA students to engage with AAIs within their academic career prior to making professional career choices. And, maybe a dream of a horse of my own again someday.
Do you have any advice for aspiring veterinary social workers?
To answer this question, I am thinking through the different “hats” I currently wear: an educator, a program director, a student, a therapeutic riding instructor, a supervisor… In all of these roles, I have learned (and urge you to) question everything, be curious, and engage in the hard conversations; read, think, write, and read more; and attend conferences to network. If you read a paper you like, email the author (really, they are people too!). Above all else, network. Introduce yourself to strangers. My entire experience started because I read an article, I introduced myself, and I asked (a lot) of questions. Don’t be afraid of being bold and brazen – if you don’t ask & try, someone else will.