The UK College of Social Work established a partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD) in October 2016 to develop clinical social workers to fill positions across the military service branches. On Friday, the program will graduate its first class of Army-UK Master of Social Work students at a commencement ceremony at Fort Sam Houston at San Antonio, Texas.
The program enrolls students from the Army, Air Force and Navy, as well as DoD civilian employees. Applicants undergo a competitive review process, even before applying to the UK Graduate School. Fewer than 20 percent make the cut. Classes are taught at the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, the DoD’s primary medical education campus. The satellite implements the UK College of Social Work’s full-time, 60-hour, Master of Social Work program, with a curriculum delivered in a condensed format, over 14 continuous months of study.
Col. Nathan Keller, director of the program at Fort Sam Houston, recognizes the benefits of the program.
“The US Army’s partnership with the University of Kentucky has been outstanding. UK has provided an excellent curriculum, unwavering support, and the flexibility to teach and evaluate military social work competencies producing superb Army social workers, well-qualified to provide clinical interventions to service members and their families,” he said in an email. “The Army-UK MSW program is essential to the success of the Army Social Work mission as 75 percent of required active-duty social workers will graduate from this program.”
At UK, Chris Flaherty, associate professor at the College of Social Work, serves as a liaison for the program.
Cultural competence is a key feature in social work education, and as a retired military social work officer Flaherty recognizes the value of practitioners well-versed in military culture. “Unless you have served in the military it’s difficult to understand the lived experience of service members and their families,” he explained.
“By educating service members in advanced social work practice, we have folks who have shown that they have already adapted to military life, and have functioned in that environment,” Flaherty said. “They have a keen appreciation for the stresses and challenges their clients will bring to the table.”
In addition to educating future social work officers, Flaherty sees the Army-UK program as a door to additional collaborations.
“This partnership provides unique opportunities for UK faculty to partner with military social work officers in research endeavors directed toward developing best practices in military behavioral health,” he said. “Also by connecting the UK brand to military social work, we are positioned to recruit DoD-sponsored doctoral students. Our first active-duty Army social work officer began doctoral studies at UK this past fall.”
As the first cohort of Army UK Master of Social Work students graduate, a second began studies in February. “The UK College of Social Work is well positioned to become the nation’s leader in military social work education and research. This is our goal,” Flaherty said.