Abstract: Personality Traits Predictive of Performance for Foundation Year MSW Students: An Exploratory Study (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11737 Personality Traits Predictive of Performance for Foundation Year MSW Students: An Exploratory Study

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 5:30 PM
Bayview B (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Lynda R. Sowbel, PhD, LCSW-C, BCD , Hood College, Associate Professor of Social Work, Frederick, MD
Background and Purpose: The literature suggests that 75% of students who apply are accepted to MSW programs nationally and few students are screened out of social work programs once they have been accepted (Gibbs, 1994; Kindle & Colby, 2008; Rapp-Paglicci et al., 2006). There has been some concern that more students with problems are applying to programs and that there has been an increase in malpractice claims reported against social workers (Reamer, 1999; Rhodes et al., 1999; Valentine, 2004). Although gatekeeping the profession is considered an essential aspect of social work education, there has been scant empirical inquiry in this area. There has been some speculation that students' background characteristics may be relevant to performance (Fortune, 2003; Regehr, et al., 2001). Medicine and psychology have identified personality as an essential ingredient for performance (Hojat, et al., 2004; Judge, et al., 2002). However, there has been no study of personality of MSW students in the U.S. The purpose of this study was to identify personality factors predictive of foundation year MSW students' performance generally, and in the field, specifically. Research questions included: 1. What is the relationship between personality and performance for foundation year MSW students? 2. What is the relationship between personality and GPA for foundation year MSW students?

Method: Data were collected from 253 foundation year students entering the field, and their field instructors across an academic year in this exploratory, semi-longitudinal study. Surveys included the Multidmensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS), the Foundation Practice Self-Efficacy Scale (FPSE), the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) as well as the most frequently utilized and most cross-culturally validated personality inventory, the NEO-PI, and demographics. GPA records and admissions ratings were also utilized. Field performance was operationalized by a rating in a new performance evaluation measure, the Vignette Matching Evaluation (VME). The VME was developed by field instructors and utilized in social work and medical education in Canada (Bogo, et al., 2006). Graduate GPAs for both semesters were also evaluated as an outcome measure.

Results: There was a correlation between the personality domain of Agreeableness and field performance in both semesters. The VME provided more variability than the competency-based evaluation in the program. Although personality did not predict field performance, hierarchical regression analyses revealed that personality did predict GPA with almost 30% of the variance in GPA accounted for (Rē = .297) by the overall significant model (F = 6.08, p < .01). Findings suggest that certain personal attributes may be particularly relevant to performance in the MSW program. Significant predictors of graduate GPA included personality traits of Agreeableness, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and background characteristics of age, self-efficacy, and undergraduate GPA.

Implications: The personality trait of Agreeableness, which was associated to both outcome measures in both semesters, may be particularly relevant to social work performance. Suggestions for future research include replication with broader samples, use of the VME outcome measure, and consideration of mixed method studies. The author will discuss implications for social work research and educational gatekeeping policies and practice.