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From practicum to practice: Celebrating Social Work Month with Sarah Gruen’s story


Two social workers smile at the camera
Sarah Gruen (right), social work practicum student, at the Regional Social Work Orientation Week with her practicum supervisor Furqana Khan, program specialist with Primary and Community Care.

Every year Northern Health supports learners across disciplines in various roles, including employed student nurses, resident physicians, and practicum students. Most follow a set path in their educational journeys, regardless of the discipline they chose. March is Social Work Month, so it's time to highlight a unique practicum experience.

Sarah grew up in Southbank and moved to Burns Lake as a teenager. Growing up with a disability, it was no surprise she ended up working in health care.

"I love rural life; everyone’s connected and we have to rely on each other to thrive," she says.

Sarah spent her youth travelling and always seemed to find roles that drew her to healthcare. Eventually, she found her place as a Mental Health Clinician in the Primary Care Team in Burns Lake.

Working in the North, Sarah quickly noticed that there can be gaps in services, and that to provide certain forms of therapy, a graduate degree is often a requirement. She hopes to fill in the gaps and bring those additional services to her home community after graduating with her Masters of Social Work degree this year.

A unique learning opportunity

Sarah is the first social work student to try a multi-site practicum at Northern Health. This semester, she’s traveling between Fort St. James, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii, and Prince George to study the disparities of practicing social work across the region.

She’s getting involved in initiatives across the region as she spends time shadowing various teams such as specialized services, primary care, and acute care.

"It feels exciting to do something unique,” she says. “I’ve always been someone who likes to travel and explore. Learning of the barriers and challenges each community experiences and how each community approaches these challenges inspires me to think outside the box. I’ve connected with different social workers with specialties in certain skills. I know who to call now for advice in my future work."

Kelly Bumby, Team Lead for Specialized Services in Fort St. John, shared her experience as a site supervisor in this model: "I really enjoyed having a student on our team for a week and not having to worry about the overall supervision part. It allowed us to be a part of her learning without putting a strain on the capacities of the local teams."

Sharing and learning from others

Sarah also experienced Regional Social Work Orientation Week as a practicum student.

"Much of social work schooling is based on theory and clinical work; we don’t necessarily learn about things like the Mental Health Act or the Adult Guardianship Act,” she says. “The orientation provided at least the basic knowledge of these things, or information on who we can connect with for this type of work."

Not only is Sarah involved in site visits to shadow clinicians across the region, but she has also contributed to Northern Health by creating an internal regional contact list for social work practitioners. The list helps social workers find each other in the region and support seamless transitions in care when patients move from one site or community to another.

Sarah recommends a multi-site practicum to any clinician interested in rural work. And as for regional work, she has been able to grow in areas such as project management and resource development.

"I recognize that the need for these skills will only increase as time goes on," she says.

Sarah truly exemplifies what practicum students can bring to an organization and to their chosen disciplines when provided with the right opportunities and support. Congratulations to Sarah, and thank you to all the social workers across the North for their hard work and for making a difference!