Defining Professional Suitability
for Social Work Practice
Prepare by:
Drs. Dora Tam and Siu Ming Kwok, Associate Professors,
School of Social Work, King's University College
at the University of Western Ontario, Canada
For correspondence, please email Dr. Dora Tam at [email protected]
Definition of Professional Suitability
The possession of a comprehensive understanding
of SW knowledge, skills, and values, combined with
the performance of appropriate professional
behaviors in specific practice situations (Kimberly
& Osmond, 2009; Lyons, 1999)
 “professional competence” and “professional
suitability” have been used interchangeably in the
 “professional suitability” is the preferred construct
because “incompetence” imposes negative
connotations (Brear, Dorrian, & Luscri, 2008)
Theoretical Framework
Competence-based education and training is
rooted the functionalist perspective
(Durkheim, trans. 1984; Hager, 2004; Horder,
Professions are entrusted with providing
regulatory functions for modern society and
are expected to fulfill the rising demand for
professional accountability (MacDonald, 1995;
McCauley, 2010)
The question is whether or not the
profession has well defined criteria to
measure its members’ professional suitability.
Purpose and Methodology
Overarching purpose was to develop reliable and
valid instruments for measuring one’s professional
Built upon previous provincial study in Alberta
(Tam & Coleman, 2009), to better identify core
contents on the construct of professional
Data were collected from a province-wide mailout questionnaire surveying 341 (69%)
participants from a random sample of registered
social workers in Ontario
245 out of the 341 answered the open-end
question asking criteria of professional suitability
for social work practice
79% of the participants were female
73% held a master’s degree, 24% had a
bachelor, and the remaining were others;
Mean years of experience as a social worker
was 16 years (SD=10);
55% of them has experience as a field
supervisor, and the mean years of field
supervision experience was 6 years (SD=5.7)
66% worked in urban areas, 19% in suburban, 13% in rural or remote areas, and the
remaining were others
Data Analysis
Quantitative content analysis was used to analyze
the text-based data in this study (Krippendorff,
 The rationale was to build foundation on reliability
and validity of the construct
 Units of analysis encompassed point-form answers
such as words or short phrases
 The coding included both manifest and latent
 Built upon previous study (Tam & Coleman, 2009),
four themes were used for coding: Personal,
Practical/Interpersonal, Ethical, and Social
Consciousness Suitability
22 criteria were identified under the four
 Practice Suitability got the most
responses (1204 out of 1862 codes or
64.7%), followed by Ethical Suitability
15.7%), the next was Personal Suitability
11.0%), and Social Consciousness
Suitability got 8.6% of the codes
Identified Criteria under Each Themes (1)
Practical Suitability
1. Is client-centered
2. Is knowledgeable on different theories
3. Is competent on clinical skills (i.e. listening,
assessment, problem solving...)
4. Upholds professional boundary
5. Has good interpersonal skills
6. Has good communication skills
7. Is supportive (both practical & emotional)
Identified Criteria under Each Themes (2)
Ethical Suitability
Is respectful on one’s dignity, worth,
Maintains integrity (i.e. honesty)
Is non-judgmental
Embraces diversity
Upholds confidentiality
Identified Criteria under Each Themes (3)
Personal Suitability
Is open-minded (i.e. receptive to feedback)
Is caring (i.e. patience, friendly…)
Is empathetic
Has good self-awareness (i.e. be aware of
personal biases or limitations)
5. Is mature (i.e. manage personal problems)
6. Commits to professional development
Identified Criteria under Each Themes (4)
Social Consciousness Suitability
a. Commits to social change (i.e. advocacy,
b. Is sensitivity to structural or systematic
c. Commits to social justice (i.e. equality,
discrimination issues…)
d. Has critical thinking
Discussion (1)
◦ Some identified criteria could be grouped under more than
one theme. For example:
 ‘Is client-centered,’ ‘Upholds professional boundary’ could be under
either Ethical or Practical Suitability
 ‘Is empathetic’ could be under Ethical or Personal Suitability
 ‘Is non-judgemental’ could be Ethical or Practical Suitability
 Inter-coder reliability of Krippendorff’s  was .78, which was
slightly lower than the expected .80
◦ The data is based on a provincial survey rather than a
national data
Nevertheless, results of this study built upon the
Alberta study (Tam & Coleman, 2009) to better
understand core criteria/contents on the construct of
Professional Suitability
 Random sampling enhanced the generalizability of the
Discussion (2)
Compare with the Alberta study, ‘Commits to social change’ is the criteria
most frequently and explicitly covered under the “Social Consciousness
Suitability” in this study, but not in the Alberta study
Moreover, “life experience or work experience” were identified themes
that were not covered in the Alberta study
Another different finding is the criteria of ‘Observes agency’s policy’ that
was covered in the “Practice Suitability” in the Alberta study, but was not
mention even once in this study
Other than these differences discussed above and differences on the
frequencies of various criteria appeared in the Ontario and Alberta studies,
21 core criteria on Professional Suitability were shared in both studies
This is an important finidings for content validity, which will help building a
reliable and valid measurement on Professional Suitability
Recommendation for future research, a national study using stratified
random sampling to recruit research participants who represent the
richness of diverse practice orientations and practice contexts in Canada
To recruit both practising social workers and social work educators
including field supervisors in the national study to identify comprehensive
list of criteria on professional suitability
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Thank You!

Defining Professional Suitability for Social Work Practice