The Lived Experience of Professional Identity: A Year-Long Study with Newly Qualified Social Workers

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores how professional identity is experienced by newly qualified social workers during their first 12 months post-qualification. Professional identity is explored through the theories of hermeneutic phenomenology and critical social work, which together capture the individual and social dimensions of lived experience. Participants’ stories provide valuable insight into professional identity with implications for social work students, graduates, educators, employers and the wider profession.

Two research questions were explored:
-How is professional social work identity experienced during the first 12 months post-qualification?
-How are the professional identities of newly qualified social workers fostered and/or eroded during this period of their first 12 months post-qualification?

Seventeen participants self-selected to be involved in the study, most of whom were from rural and regional locations and all of whom completed their undergraduate social work degree with Charles Sturt University (CSU) in 2012. Three semi-structured in-depth interviews were undertaken with each participant over a 12-month period to gather rich descriptions of lived experience for interpretive analysis. The interviews were accompanied by a follow-up focus group to affirm the themes.

The findings indicated that the first year was an important time for change and growth as the participants transitioned and adjusted to their professional identity. Participants articulated how their professional identity was fostered and/or eroded by both individual and social contexts. Most participants described the development of their professional identity in positive terms, but there were also risks, especially in the face of organisational demands, workplace bullying and discourses that did not value a social work identity. The participants’ stories describe the passions and strengths they brought to their organisation and profession as well as their changing needs for long-term formal and informal support over the year.

The study’s findings indicate a need for greater attention to professional identity in social work during the initial post-qualification period in Australia through further research and dialogue. The study’s conclusions identify strategies for multilevel systemic support for newly qualified practitioners during this key period of development in order to consolidate and sustain their foundation as committed social workers.

Keywords – professional identity, newly qualified social workers, hermeneutic phenomenology, critical social work.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Bowles, Wendy, Principal Supervisor
  • Bell, Karen, Principal Supervisor
Award date01 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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