Methods: Twenty-four students submitted journal entries reflecting on their field placement and coursework after completing 125 hours of a 250-hour field placement internship. Using modified Grounded Theory content analysis, data were categorized into broad categories of professional identity development then into subcategories based on Barretti’s themes, then further refined into precise codes that reflect the modification of the original themes. The authors independently coded journals line-by-line and reached 100% consensus.
Results: Students’ professional identity is guided by a developmental process that reflects an emerging pre-professional identity in six stages: (1) expectation – earliest personal experiences with social work and social problems; (2) revelation – initial experiences with the field through field placement; (3) refutation – self-doubt, anxiety, and thoughts of quitting; (4) transformation- emerging sense of professionalism and awareness of having acquired new skills; (5) integration- recognition of social-emotional growth and optimism about career; and (6) aspiration- acknowledgment of the need to learn new skills and aspiration to identify as a social worker.
Conclusions and Implications: Unlike BSW and MSW students who solidify their sense of professional identity, community college students are at the precipice of professional identity development. We have therefore developed an innovative developmental theoretical framework of emerging pre-professional identity development for community college students. This framework can be used to prepare students for understanding their own development as nascent professionals. Field placement supervisors can offer students appropriate support and guidance based on developmental stage. Community college faculty may use this model to develop pedagogical practices to help students recognize their achievements in professionalism, build self-confidence, and pursue new skills by transferring to four year undergraduate and later, graduate social work programs, ultimately advancing community college students’ sustained employability.