Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog! This blog was created by current student Ambassadors of the UNC School of Social Work MSW programs for people like you: Prospective students interested in getting a glimpse of our Master of Social Work program from the student angle. Feel free to contact Student Ambassadors if you want to learn more!
I found my voice and this is my story
My name is Donald McDonald and I am a person in long-term recovery from addiction, which means I haven’t used alcohol or other drugs to make it through the day in nearly twelve years. As a result, my wife can count on me and my children are proud of me. I got an awesome job as a programs director two weeks before I graduate from the best social work school in the world. I am surrounded by friends and allies, and I have committed my life to service. I got well then I got better than well – I transformed from sociopath to social worker. I’m telling you this because I am not ashamed and I intend to advocate for an end to discrimination against my people.
So, if you come to the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work, you will take a cool class one day where you get to analyze a policy. I chose a NC law that mandated a committee to respond to the prescription opioid epidemic. Then I got a seat on that committee. Then I helped organize a legislative advocacy day that might support their work product. Mind blown. Integration… I actually used part of my policy analysis paper to write an email to some of the committee members, reminding them why we are here because I thought things weren’t moving fast enough. In the end, I thought better of it and only included the first two sentences. Discretion… Harnessed anger and clear direction…
I’m checking in with the workgroup to keep communication lines open.
What should I be doing for the PDAAC until our next meeting in June?
Those are the only two lines I sent because I didn’t want to piss anybody off. I decided that the rest of my email sounded accusatory and smug. I’m sure they don’t read my blog, so I’ll share it with potential students. This is just an example of how real your studies can become when you integrate them with your passions and get involved with real change.
Now… the rest of the email that better judgment kept me from sending but didn’t stop me from therapeutically sharing with you.
Why are we here?
Why the North Carolina General Assembly says we are here:
North Carolina Session Law 2015-241 establishes the “Prescription Drug Abuse Advisory Committee” (PDAAC) to help design the statewide strategic plan to “combat the problem of prescription drug abuse” (NCGA, 2015). The law calls upon the committee to:
- Identify a mission to reduce and prevent prescription drug “abuse”
- Conduct a Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Challenges (SWOC) analysis
- Conduct an analysis to compare threats and opportunities to the system’s ability to meet challenges and seize opportunities (GAP analysis)
- Identify strategy issues gleaned from the SWOC and Gap analyses
- Formulate strategies for addressing these issues
The aforementioned strategies should be aimed at accomplishing the following goals:
- Oversight and regulation of prescribers and dispensers
- Operation of the CSRS
- Operation of the Medicaid lock-in program in order to review behavior of patients with high use of prescribed controlled substances
- Enforcement of State laws for the misuse and diversion of controlled substances
- Any other appropriate mechanism identified by the committee
According to Session Law 2015-241, the PDAAC is responsible for developing and implementing a performance management system that connects the goals and objectives of the statewide strategic plan to law enforcement activities and monitoring of prescribers and dispensers. The system that the PDAAC is responsible for developing must achieve all of the goals as well as recommend actions that need to be taken when performance of this system falls short (NCGA, 2015).
Why I am here:
Thus far, the key players are framing this issue around stopping substance “abuse” and diversion and stopping “doctor shopping.” We should find that notion hard to reconcile. We should find it offensive. As we know, over 5,000 North Carolinians have died from prescription opioid overdose since the CSRS was implemented – enough casualties to fill the entire Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh… and the front lawn. Many of these faces are recognizable to us.
Lichtin Plaza (The Lawn): 273
Kennedy Theater: 150
Fletcher Opera Theater: 600
Maymandi Concert Hall: 1700
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium: 2227
5,000 Dead North Carolinians
The law mandating this committee was approved at 9:35 a.m. on the 18th day of September, 2015. We met in March for a few hours and will reconvene in June. It is likely that we will not have a deliverable until September, 2016. In that year, over 1,000 North Carolinians will not benefit from our solution. Their families will be writing their obituaries.
What I am asking is how our workgroup fits into this mandate and what I can be doing between now and June. The Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use has recommended supporting the PDAAC as a priority consideration. I was fortunate enough to be asked to provide input and I encouraged them to support our work. Not really – I told them that they should tell the NCGA to pass a law mandating physician registration and utilization of the CSRS. Only half of DEA licensed physicians are registered. They met me half way and said they would encourage “significantly” increasing physician registration. I said, “OK.” Compromise.
Would I be in a position of compromising if the Task Force were recommending a partial response to the Zika virus? No. I am in this position because I am a recovered drug addict trying to advocate for dying drug addicts. I should be happy with legislative table scraps.
RCNC is organizing the NC Community Recovery Advocacy Day on May 3rd. As we meet with legislators, I intend to ask my people to support the Task Force proposals which indirectly supports the PDAAC’s work. I want to feel good about that.
I understand that DHHS has been working diligently on the statewide strategic plan since its mandate, but my involvement was limited to a number of hours in March. Make me feel better about encouraging my people to support this work even though it has no teeth and cares more about the work flow of physicians than it does about the pain of grieving mothers. Make me feel better about asking my people to support this work even though it is framed in a manner that disregards the deaths of 5,000 of their friends and family members and seeks to continue the criminalization of substance use disorders.
Why are we here?
Donald McDonald, CSAC
MSW Candidate, 2016, UNC Chapel Hill
Director of Programs and Services
Recovery Communities of North Carolina
5205 Capital Blvd. Suite 5245
Raleigh, NC 27616
Office: (919) 231-0248
Fax: (919) 231-6383
Cell: (919) 332-4207
RCNC promotes addiction recovery, wellness and citizenship through advocacy, education and support.
This time last year, I was counting down the days until my undergraduate BSW graduation, and celebrating the fact that I was accepted into UNC’s MSW program and, officially “onto something bigger and better”. Though I was excited, I often questioned whether or not I was making the right decision. Should I have tried to find work and taken a gap year? Had I learned enough to keep me from sinking at UNC? Would Advanced Standing be too fast to truly learn what I need? Will I be able to afford graduate school? Will I be able to get a job after graduation? Ultimately, will this ALL be worth it?
When I began classes at UNC, I realized what an incredibly diverse group of students I was being given the opportunity to work with. People who had families and children and worked full-time jobs, people who had travelled all over the world, people who had started non-profits, and people just like me- students who were coming from academia and were new to the practice side of social work. I soon realized just how incredible my experience at UNC was going to be. Due to the diverse group of students, I was able to gain so much more from my classes and overall learning experience. Discussions were lengthy and dense, and professors were supportive of our conversations.
As the semesters moved along, I felt continuously supported by the School in all of my work and aspirations. I had made contacts and connections, and by the Spring I was networking with recent graduates, not-so-recent graduates, and relevant community members. Though I am a commuter student who isn’t particularly involved on campus, I felt like a “real” member of this School. I was soon feeling more confident in my clinical work at my field placement, as well as confident in my clinical knowledge. Now, with graduation only a few short weeks away, I am able to see a tremendous amount of growth in myself as a professional, a student, and an individual citizen over the past year.
I wrote this blog because I wanted to give newly admitted students, as well as prospective students, a glimpse into the mind of an almost-MSW. This is the time of our MSW education where we are most stressed, and feeling the pressure of not only graduation, but also the next phase in life- starting our careers. However, I need to let you know that IT IS WORTH IT. It is all worth it, every little bit. When I got an email offering me my dream job with a pretty dreamy salary, I first realized that it was worth it. When I was able to go see my parents and tell them about my new job, and let them know that all of their hard work had paid off, it was definitely worth it. When I was able to go home that night and tell my soon-to-be-husband that in only a few months, our hard work spanning over 6 years of education will have finally ended in a career for myself- IT WAS WORTH IT. Last, when I finally got up the nerve to log into my student loan online account and total up the monthly payments- and realized that I can afford them- I took a deep breath and said to myself, “I can do this- it was worth it”.
No matter what stage of your life you are in, and no matter what your worries are…take a deep breath and remind yourself that it will all be worth it. Reach out to people, know when to ask for help, and take care of yourself first. If you are able to do these things, you will reach your goals and find that all of your hard work and determination to succeed will eventually pay off.
Monday, April 4th, was a long, exciting, nerve-racking, fun, exhausting, unforgettable day in the life of this soon-to-be MSW grad.
6:15 – Roll out of bed and get ready. Business casual today–meeting potential employers at UNC SSW Career Day. Pack a change of clothes, including lucky UNC t-shirt.
6:56 – Catch my carpool from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill with my classmate Chad. Lots of chatter on the way about upcoming graduation, job prospects, and the evening’s NCAA basketball championship game.
8:30 – Coffee. Brain waking up.
9:00 – Health Policy class. Videos and discussion of some incredible people and organizations that are increasing access to health care for disadvantaged people in the Triangle and in other parts of the country.
10:30 – No Program Evaluation class today. Time to check email, print articles, and get geared up for Career Day. Collar straight? Check. Résumés? Check. Breath mint? Check. Let’s do this.
11:00 – Career Day sign-in, name tag placement, and a quick review of the list of organizations represented and where they’re set up. Three of particular interest, one on the third floor, two on the fifth. Commiserate with a classmate about how nerve-racking the meet-and-greet process is for introverts like us. “Whose turn to talk is it?” Reminded by SSW staff member what Career Day is about: making connections and impressions. In fact, the positive impression she made at Career Day helped her land her first post-grad job.
11:03-11:56 – Smiles, handshakes, questions, conversations, résumés, business cards…whew! Spoke with representatives from two organizations where I’ve recently applied, expressed my enthusiastic interest, hopefully attached a face and a positive impression to my name. Possibly laid the groundwork with a few others as well.
Kids and families, mental health, immigrants and refugees, military and veteran services, school social work, substance use treatment, older adults, social services, and on and on. Whatever your professional interests, there was someone at Career Day for you to check out. And they’re all there because they want talented social workers and know where to find them. A few of the organizations didn’t even have current openings; they just want to be well-positioned within the UNC MSW community for when they do!
11:57 – Professionalizing done. Head to the car to change into my comfy shoes and lucky t-shirt.
12:10 – Chick-fil-a.
12:36 – Chat with a fellow MSW student with whom I’ve had a class or two but never a conversation. She’s from Georgia, has done international work related to human trafficking, and is determined to figure out what the Hebrew tattoo on my right wrist means. Good luck with that. J We compared results on a Differential Diagnosis exam and talked about post-graduation plans. Last month of grad school, still meeting interesting, enjoyable people who want to change the world for good.
1:06 – Find a spot to read for my next class. End up mostly chatting with a couple classmates about Career Day.
2:00 – Groups class. Marilyn Ghezzi is such a knowledgeable and engaging professor—one of my favorites! If there’s a clinical class offered at UNC SSW, she’s probably taught it (diagnosis, brief treatment, DBT, groups, trauma treatment—you name it). Not only a clinician extraordinaire, she’s extremely accessible and loves meeting with students. In preparation for a post-graduate fellowship interview last month, she was glad to meet with me to offer her insight into what experience and knowledge I should highlight in my interview. (Dr. Michael Lambert, an equally engaging professor, offered his counsel as well.)
4:44 – Class dismissed. Game time. Catch up with Chad to figure out our pregame meal logistics. Where should we eat to maximize our mojo for the game? We have to do our part!
5:27 – Burgers and vanilla Cokes (from the fountain, not a bottle) at Sutton’s Drug Store, a Chapel Hill institution.
6:10 – Recognize a guy in Sutton’s that we knew from undergrad at UNC (many moons ago). Spent a few minutes reminiscing about old dormmates and road trips to the Florida. Sutton’s has been his pregame routine for the last month, and we’re undefeated over that period. He’s doing his part, too.
6:27 – Head to the Dean Dome to watch the game. Joined by Chad’s wife and another classmate. Line up outside with a sea of Carolina-blue-clad students and fans, buzzing with anticipation. Try to photobomb as many selfies as possible.
8:00 – Students admitted into the Dean Dome. Spend a few minutes finding the optimal viewing spot. End up in Section 109, Row 3.
8:55 – Building is filling up, band is playing, crowd is cheering. This is getting real.
9:19 – Tip-off of the 2016 NCCA Men’s Basketball National Championship Game. Heels vs. Wildcats. Not a person seated in the building.
9:20-11:25 – Mostly an adrenaline-fueled blur of joy, frustration, determination, anxiety, despair, hope, and exhilaration. A 10-point comeback in the waning minutes of the game, capped by a contorting, double-pump 3-pointer to tie the game, by one of the grittiest guards to ever wear a Tar Heel jersey. The building explodes with new life! Just 4.7 seconds left then we’re going to overtime. “But 4.7 seconds is an eternity in basketball time,” my gut reminds me.
11:26 – Stunned silence. My lucky t-shirt failed us. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins knocks down a buzzer-beating, game-winning, 25-foot jumpshot to break the hearts of Tar Heel nation. I will never forget the sight of Marcus Paige, who almost single-handedly willed us back into the game, weeping as he walked off the court. He gave everything he had, and it was all gone in 4.7 seconds. What a heart-rending way to end such a special career at UNC.
11:32 – Shake off the disbelief. Begin the long walk back to the car, followed by the long drive back to Winston-Salem. Lots of sighs and what-ifs and positive reframes. “At least it was a great game.” “What a comeback we made.” “Villanova is a great team, and they deserved it.” Impossible not to be proud of our guys, despite the heaviness of disappointment.
1:06 – Arrive home. Quick glance at the mail. Brush teeth. Roll into bed. Lots to do tomorrow and the next four weeks. Thankful to be a part of such a vibrant university community, and a student in a program so engaged in the molding of outstanding professionals and the pursuit social justice. Special day over, exciting things ahead.
Since coming on board as an ambassador for the School of Social Work, I have received countless emails from prospective and recently accepted students asking for my feedback about UNC’s MSW program. Not surprisingly, many of these questions end up being the same. So, I’ve compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions!
- Why did you choose UNC?
I applied to five MSW programs all over the country. UNC initially appealed to me because it was ranked as one of the top 5 MSW programs in the country. I liked that the class sizes would be similar to what I had experienced in undergrad, but that I would still be able to take advantage of the resources available at such a prestigious, big university. I liked that this area of North Carolina was small while still being vibrant, was fairly affordable for a full-time student, and – lets be honest – the great weather didn’t hurt either!
- What is the best part of the program?
My favorite part of the program has been how accessible the faculty are. So many of them are renowned experts in their fields, and I never expected to be able to forge such strong relationships with them. I truly feel that they are invested in my MSW experience, and want me to succeed.
- What is the biggest downfall of the program?
The biggest downfall of the program has been that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to experience everything. There are so many field placements I wish I could have had, multiple elective classes I would have loved to take, and plenty of additional lectures and extracurricular activities to get involved with. There are ways to squeeze some extra opportunities in – such as taking additional classes over the summer – but never enough time to do it all.
- What has most surprised you about the program?
The biggest surprise has been how the political climate of North Carolina has added value to my experience at UNC. As a public school in a state where the legislature changes hands fairly often, we get to see first-hand how new policies and changes impact the community. It has provided a real-world context to my education that I don’t feel I would have gotten at any other schools I applied to.
- What have your favorite classes been?
My favorite classes have been Social Work Policy (a foundation-year course), Differential Diagnosis, Motivational Interviewing, Social Work at the Interface of Mental Health & Criminal Justice, and Child Welfare: Practice and Perspectives.
- Are there a lot of options for field placements?
It honestly feels as though there are unlimited options for field placements. There is a large database of placements that other students have previously had. If you’re interested in an agency that hasn’t previously had an intern, Field Office staff are great at working to forge a partnership and trying to get you the experience you’re seeking.
- What else is there to get involved with?
(Disclaimer: These are just a few of the things I’ve been involved with during my time at UNC, and is by no means a comprehensive list!) I highly recommend getting involved with SHAC, the oldest student-run health clinic in the country. SHAC takes volunteers one night a week, and is a great way to practice talking to clients alongside other UNC students. SoWoSO is the student organization for the School of Social Work. They host social events, speakers, and other opportunities for graduate students. They also have leadership positions available for rising-Concentration year students. There is an active social justice movement on campus that involves undergraduate and graduate students, and also includes community members in their events.
- What is the dynamic of your cohort?
My cohort is a great group! There are about 100 of us preparing to graduate, and I’ve been in class with all but a handful since I started the program. I tend to spend time with a smaller group of folks, but definitely feel that I can say hello or start a conversation with anyone I pass in the building. The thing I appreciate most about my cohort is how many different experiences my classmates bring to the table. Not only did we all have varying paths prior to coming to UNC, but our field placements add another layer of difference that we’re able to share with one another both in- and outside of the classroom.
I hope that this post will be helpful for anyone interested in the program, contemplating accepting the offer to attend UNC, or who may just be nervous about getting started this fall! Don’t forget, if you have any other questions, just email myself or another ambassador – we are always happy to help
This year, I’ve had a phenomenal experience at my field placement interning in the outpatient clinic at the Center for Child and Family Health (CCFH). This placement was perfect for the experience I was seeking from a field placement.
What’s the deal with CCFH? The CCFH outpatient clinic serves children, ages 0-21, and families who have experienced trauma by providing evidenced-based treatments. Therapies administered by CCFH clinicians include Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT),
Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS), Triple P, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP). Our clients have experienced a range of traumas–anywhere from sexual abuse to physical abuse to neglect to witnessing domestic violence to community violence–and various chronic stressors.
What do I do as an intern? The outpatient clinic is a purely clinical setting, which I absolutely love! Here are a few of my responsibilities I’ve held this school year:
- Conduct weekly intake assessments
- Diagnose mental health disorders using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V)
- Propose treatment recommendations to a multidisciplinary treatment team
- Hold a caseload of individual clients for weekly therapy sessions
- Co-facilitate a post-adoption group
- Co-facilitate a school-based skills group for high school students using an evidence-based model
- Attend training opportunities, such as weekly didactics, National Child Traumatic Stress Network problem based learning group, PCIT learning sessions, and SPARCS and TF-CBT learning collaboratives organized by North Carolina Child Treatment Program
Why did I call it a “perfect” placement? So maybe there is no such thing as a perfect placement, but this placement is spot on for what I was looking for in a second year internship. I’m getting to work with my target population and am experiencing the nuances of community-based mental health and an outpatient clinic. Additionally, the training opportunities to learn about various treatment models has been amazing! I appreciate the chance to get hands-on experience assessing, diagnosing, and doing therapy with clients. Finally, I’d say one of the many benefits about having a field placement as I take classes is juxtaposing what we discuss theoretically in the classroom and seeing how things actually practically and realistically function in the field.
Some of you may or may not follow astrology, but I have always prided myself in being a Libra. Balance and fairness are extremely important to me. As such, these principles trickle over into my everyday life. I try to be fair in all of my relationships and remain balanced in all aspects of life. Although it does not always work, it still helps to try.
Finishing up my second year has been extremely difficult. With concentration planning, wedding planning, and family commitments, I have to intentionally ground myself and stay organized. While all of these things are very exciting, they are all stressors as well. For me, these points are what help me balance the scales.
- Keep a list! As Donald mentioned in a previous blog, making a list and checking off things as you accomplish them helps you stay focused and remain on task. It also helps by creating a visual for what needs to get done. I prefer to put the less daunting tasks at the top of the list and the longest/most grueling tasks at the bottom. That’s just my personal preference, and I know some prefer to knock out the biggest things first! I figure if procrastination has gotten me this far, what’s the point in changing now.
- Don’t self-isolate. This is my natural go-to response when life gets too overwhelming. However, I’ve found that remaining connected and being open with friends and loved ones really helps me cope during stressful periods. AND…since this is what we tell our clients to do, as social workers should also practice the same techniques.
- Keep YOU in mind when making decisions. It can be easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of life when too many things are going on at once. Sometimes it’s necessary to be “selfish” and truly make decisions based on what you desire as opposed to what others are saying. Trust your gut!
- Lastly, continue to look towards the finish line! No matter what point you are at in your life, your career, or your education, it’s important to set goals and realize accomplishments are within grasp.
As always, hope this helps! Here is a bit of my sweet self-care from the weekend
I have received multiple emails in the past month or so from prospective students asking questions about employment opportunities after graduation. With graduation less than two months away, many of my peers (including myself) are currently either entering or fully immersed in the job search. The most important thing to remember about post-graduation employment is that the UNC School of Social Work does a great job of supporting its students in their job search, and offers multiple opportunities for gaining assistance in your job search. Ultimately, the consensus from recent graduates is that most, if not all students are gainfully employed upon, or closely following graduation. The opportunities are out there, and they are vast. You just have to know where and how to find them. By taking advantage of most of the job search assistance opportunities provided by the UNC School of Social Work, I have been given some great advice that I have narrowed down to a few key points that may hopefully help you to feel a little more prepared:
• By the end of the fall semester, come up with a timeline for your job search so that you have plenty of time to take advantage of all job search and preparation opportunities that may come up, without experiencing interference with your already busy schedule and professional commitments. This will help you to go ahead and establish whether you would prefer to take a break after graduation, or whether you would like to jump right into employment. Ultimately, this will prevent you from either jumping into a job too early, or scrambling for a job at the last minute after realizing that your funds have run dry.
• Start early, so that you have a better idea of what jobs are out there, where jobs are located that are relevant to your interests, the typical salary ranges, as well as when jobs are posted and how often. Just getting a general idea of the online job search patterns can tell you a lot about the agency posting the job positions- including their rate of turnover, and other signs of how happy their employees are.
• I did not realize how important simply knowing what key words to use during your job search could be! Ex: In the healthcare field, there are vastly different job positions available listed as case manager vs. social worker vs. care manager vs. MSW
• Network!! I cannot emphasize this enough. People told me to network in the fall, and I was not excited about this in the beginning. However, I made a few connections over my time at UNC who accepted my resume and ultimately sent it out to their connections. Not only were they able to give me the inside scoop on relevant employers/agencies, but they were also able to provide me with the first look at job openings in their agencies. The easiest way to network is by contacting professionals who have spoken to groups that you participate in. For example, professionals who have hosted workshops within the School of Social Work, or guest speakers in your classes. They are volunteering their time at the school for a reason. They care about future social workers and want to help you get connected to the professional world.
• If you are interested in a job at your field placement, let them know well in advance of your applying for other positions. Send an email, or talk to them in person about this. Start this conversation by saying something like, “I have really enjoyed my time here at (name of agency), and would love the opportunity to apply for any openings in the near future. I am in the process of putting my resume together in order to apply for jobs in the community, would it be okay if I sent my resume to you in case of any openings?”. The agency that you have been working with has invested a lot of time and resources into your training, and you have become very familiar with the way their agency operates. It is likely that they would be interested in you staying if the opportunity presents itself!
• Utilize your campus resources- meet with Career Services, ask faculty to look over your resume. Everyone has a different opinion about how a resume should be written, and what proper job interview etiquette consists of. Getting multiple opinions will help you to make the ultimate decision for yourself.
• School events- attend them!! UNC School of Social Work offers so many events, including Networking Nights, resume workshops, career fairs, and an NASW resume review, among many others. This is a great way to meet recent graduates who have successfully acquired jobs, and can offer insight and advice.
• I had one recent graduate tell me the following, which I have found to be very valuable in my job search:
-First of all, trust your instincts. If you find a job opportunity that excites you, go for it. Do not settle. Know your strengths and value yourself as a professional with a lot of talent and worth. Make a list of your must-haves and your deal breakers for a first job, and stick with it!!
• When you are ready to start applying, start early! Do a few trial run applications to get comfortable with the online job search process. Some job applications are simply emailed to a hiring manager, and some require the creation of an online account. Even if you have been gainfully employed in the past, the online job search is constantly changing. Many companies use hiring software to scan your resume for keywords in order to narrow down the hiring pool. Simply getting comfortable with writing cover letters and tweaking your resume for various jobs will help you to become more confident when applying for the jobs that you REALLY want. Remember, if you are offered an interview for a job that you were not that excited about, you can always say no to a job offer. Additionally, practicing your interviewing skills on jobs that you are not too invested in definitely will not hurt in the end!