Best and Worst career decisions I’ve made

The best and worst decisions I’ve made

‘I didn’t stick up for myself’

Beth Pearl is a social worker on a career break from a Welsh local authority

The best

The best workplace decision I ever made was to become a practice teacher and to complete the practice teacher award in 2001. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent practice teacher who encouraged me to reflect on decisions I’d made and taught me about managing risk.

Her input made a great difference when I started my first job and I realised from talking to other social workers that not everyone had been as fortunate as I.

Completing the practice teaching award while working full time was hard and it took a long time. At the time I was a medical social worker and I definitely feel it was worth doing.

The training gave me the opportunity to analyse and reflect on social work practice – including my own – and to value the core of what it means to be a social worker. I also learned how best to pass on the knowledge and experience that I had gained through my career, as well as enabling students to challenge their own views and develop their own value base.

I have now been a practice teacher to three students. At times it has been difficult to be a practice teacher as well as carrying a large caseload but I have always felt I have gained from the experience, as I hope have the students.

It has been great to see each one learn and develop their confidence and for them to come to see the profession as social work rather than just care management.

The worst

My first job as a social worker was in a specialist hospital team where there were only five staff. About three years into my post, several other members of the team went off with stress leaving just myself and the senior practitioner to cover the entire hospital. Between us we were on duty Monday to Friday and ended up working 12-hour days just trying to keep on top of the workload. This continued for several weeks until our colleagues returned to work.

While I am good at empowering others and sticking up for the rights of the people I work with, on this occasion I didn’t make the decision to stick up for myself. I ended up exhausted and almost burning myself out. It was a big lesson.

It also made me realise that by working ourselves so hard, my colleagues and I were in fact covering up for the deficiencies of our service. It is difficult to choose not to try to do all the work when you are speaking to service users and involved with their situations on a daily basis. But I would now be much more vociferous in highlighting the impossibility of the task we were faced with.

Having worked in two local authorities it does seem this problem is common to many social workers and perhaps we need to learn to stick up for ourselves when the demands on our time are unrealistic.

Published in the 25 June 2009 edition of Community Care

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