Accepting a job offered by her placement host has made the path from student to social worker easy for former dentist Hima Lal.
While she was volunteering her dental skills to domestic violence survivors for a year-and-a-half in rural India, Hima was working hard for social causes in her previous profession, when she decided to further her studies in Australia and change careers.
Hima graduated from the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP) with her Master of Social Work (Qualifying) in mid-2016.
“My passion towards the field of domestic violence, women’s empowerment and anti- oppressive practice led me take up Social Work,” she said.
In India, the Dental Diagnostic Centre where Hima worked provided regular free ‘treatment camps’ for women with orofacial injuries. It was her direct exposure to women recovering from domestic violence that opened the way for Hima to enter postgraduate study at the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP).
Placement job offer
Hima’s postgraduate course requires 1,000 hours of work placement to complement the course’s theoretical component. Her background as a health practitioner and volunteer meant Hima was well-prepared during her two fieldwork sessions, with one of them leading directly to her current employment.
“My first placement was with Bankstown Women’s Health Centre, and my second was with Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia,” said Hima.
“Each placement was carefully chosen according to my area of interest and career plans. Both organisations offered the domestic violence and sexual assault support service experience I was seeking.”
During her training while on placement at Rape and Domestic Violence Australia (RDVSA), Hima’s supervisor suggested she apply for a permanent paid role that was coming up at the organisation. The application was successful and Hima began work there in December 2016.
“At placement I was active on the crisis line and covering full day shifts. I was offered a position near the end of my time there and three months later I joined RDVSA as a telephone and online specialised trauma counsellor,” she said.
“As well as trauma counselling, my role includes preparing file notes and team-based work, such as research, for example, around the importance of trauma-informed practice for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. The study will be used to support funding applications and also to develop best-practice guidelines for providing the most effective care to survivors.”
Early professional development
While placements are where ACAP students can witness and practise the social service skills they have covered in class, time spent in the field also establishes crucial contacts and can even be a chance to assist with a higher cause, as Hima found when she contributed expertise to an important study during and after her first placement.
“I completed a research project for Bankstown Women’s Health Centre, ‘Domestic Violence Survivors and Primary Health Care’, which is about the barriers domestic violence survivors face when they access general medical centres for treatment. For example, do they prefer women's health centres over general health centres? The work also briefly touches on the importance of trauma informed care,” Hima said.
“The centre manager asked if I could research the importance of women's health centres, and so after a lot of brain storming I decided on this topic. Although I finished my placement before the project was complete, I volunteered to finish it, because research is a long process. There has been no decision yet around how to use it. My job was to successfully finish the task and since it could be used for a good cause, I volunteered to complete what I had started.”
Making strong connections and taking advantage of professional development opportunities so early in her path has been a valuable boost to Hima’s start in the sector.
“I built a lot of useful professional relationships during placement. My network slowly grew, and also I was able to work with both of my host organisations closely, even after I finished my placements.”
After only a short time in her job, Hima is enjoying the rewards of her new profession.
“It’s not just about financial benefits but the realisation that you are doing a tiny bit every day to change the world and make it a better place is a wonderful feeling, and ACAP is the best place to mould you into an excellent skilled professional,” she said.
Supportive learning culture
Hima studied full-time at ACAP and was able to work part-time thanks to the college’s flexible timetable.
“Since we did not have classes continuously from Monday to Friday, there was the opportunity to work while studying. A few classes were available in the evenings, which made it convenient for me,” she said.
“Another highlight was ACAP’s professors, who have lots of practical and theoretical knowledge. They are highly approachable and spend the time to listen and sort out your problems and concerns. It is amazing how student-friendly ACAP is,” said Hima.
Personal support from the School of Social Work played a crucial role in connecting Hima to placement, and ultimately to her timely new job.
“ACAP found my second placement [at RDVSA] for me, and Associate Professor Sharon Moore made sure I took up that opportunity as she knew it was most suitable for me. And it turned out great! That is the relationship I have with the professors there.”
Hima says the MSW(Q) program prepared her for the workplace and the encouraging study environment gave her the confidence to accept her job offer. She was able to choose assessment topics related to her career goals and applied her past volunteering experiences to her submitted work.
“ACAP’s course content was highly satisfying. I was well supported from the beginning of the course. Most of my assignments focused on domestic violence and sexual assault. That freedom to choose our topics and write papers on them is really beneficial,” said Hima.
To those considering a career in social work, Hima says: “Definitely choose ACAP! It is quality education with a student-friendly staff and their service delivery is highly client-focused. You will be well supported at ACAP.”
ACAP offers three Social Work courses and there is a VET pathway to undergraduate study, via a selection of Diploma courses.
Hima Lal was interviewed in January 2017.