Exploring Social Work Students’ Attitudes and Experiences at a Free Clinic

Debra Lavender-Bratcher, Margaret Elbow, Laura A Lowe, Molly Kruse


This paper addresses the experiences of social work students who offered social work services to clients at a clinic offering free medical care to those who are indigent and lack health insurance in a community in the United States. The study found that students’ attitudes toward poverty were challenged from the micro to the macro level.  Utilizing the structural explanation of poverty, structural social work and Freire’s pedagogy of oppression, the study explored how students’ attitudes toward poverty were affected as they provided services to clients who are hovering at or below poverty level.

Full Text:



Atherton, C. R., Gemmel, R. J., Haagenstad, S., Holt, D. J., Jensen, L. A., O’Hara, D. F., & Rehner, T.A. (1993). Measuring attitudes toward poverty: A new scale. Social Work Research and Abstracts, 29(4), 28-30. DOI: 10.1093/swra/29.4.28.

Barnett, J.C. & Berchick, E.R. (2017). Current Population Reports, P60-260, Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2016, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Center for American Progress (2017). Talk poverty: State by state. Retrieved from: https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/texas-2016-report/

Cozzarelli, C., Wilkinson, A. V., & Tagler, M. J. (2001). Attitudes toward the poor and attributions for poverty. Journal of Social Issues, 57(2), 207-227. DOI: 10.1111/0022-4537.00209

Daughtery, L, and Donaldson, L. (2011). Introducing asset-based models of social justice into service learning: A social work approach. Journal of Community Practice, 19(1), 80-99. DOI: 10.1080/10705422.2011.550262.

Freire, P. (1970, 2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed: 30th anniversary. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Garfield, R., Majerol, M., Damico, A., & Foutz, J. (2016, November). The uninsured: A primer. Key facts about health insurance and the uninsured in the era of health reform. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from: www.kff.org

Garfield, R. & Damico, A. (2015). The coverage gap: Uninsured poor adults in states that do not expand Medicaid – An update [Issue Brief]. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from: www.kff.org

Gasker, J. A., & Vafeas, J. G. (2003). Starting where the student is: Adapting social justice curricula to poverty attitudes. The Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 9(1), 93-110. DOI: 10.18084/1084-7219.9.1.93

Gilbert, D.J., & Gerstenblatt, P. (2014). Framing service learning in social work: An interdisciplinary elective course embedded within a university-community partnership. Social education, 33(8), 1037-1053. DOI: 10.1080/02615479.2014.935731

Gottesman, I. (2010). Sitting in the waiting room: Paulo Freire and the critical turn in the field of education. Educational Studies, 46(4), 376-399. DOI: 10.1080/00131941003782429

Ickes, M.J. (2011). The Freirean model – a place in health promotion and education. American Journal of Health Studies, 26(1), 18-24.

International Federation of Social Workers (2018, June 1). Global definition of social work. Retrieved from: http://ifsw.org/get-involved/global-definition-of-social-work/

Mullaly B. (2006). The new structural social work: Ideology, theory, practice, 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University.

Nadel, M., Majewski, V., & Sullivan-Cosetti, M. (2007). Social work and service learning: Partnerships for social justice. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

National Association of Social Workers. (2018, June 01). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (Approved 1996, revised 2017). Retrieved from: https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English

Price, J. H., Desmond, S. M., Snyder, F. F., & Kimmel, S. R. (1988). Perceptions of family practice residents regarding health care and poor patients. The Journal of Family Practice, 27(6), 615-621.

Rehner, T., Ishee, J., Sallour, M., & Velasques, D. (1997). Mississippi social workers’ attitudes toward poverty and the poor. Journal of Social Work Education, 33(1), 131-142. DOI: 10.1080/10437797.1997.10778858

Rosenthal, B. S. (1993). Graduate social work students’ beliefs about poverty and attitudes toward the poor. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 7(1), 107-121. DOI: 10.1300/J067v07n01_09

Sanders, S., McFarland, P., & Sunday, J. (2003). The impact of cross-cultural service-learning on undergraduate social work students’ perceptions of culture, race, and economic justice. The Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 9(1), 19-40. DOI: 10.18084/1084-7219.9.1.19

Semega, J.L., Fontenot, K.R. & Kollar, M.A. (2017, September). Current population reports, P60-259: Income and poverty in the United States: 2016. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Smith, J. C., & Medalia, C. (2015). Health insurance coverage in the United States: 2014. Current Population Reports. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/

Smith-Campbell, B. (2005). Health professional students’ cultural competence and attitudes toward the poor: The influence of a clinical practicum supported by the National Health Service Corps. Journal of Allied Health, 34(1), 56-62.

Sword, W., Reutter, L., Meagher-Stewart, D., & Rideout, E. (2004). Baccalaureate nursing students’ attitudes toward poverty: Implications for nursing curricula. Journal of Nursing Education, 43(1) 13-19. DOI: 10.3928/01484834-20040101-05

Texas Tech University. (2018, June 01). Service learning. What is service learning? Retrieved from: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/calue/servicelearning.php

U.S. Census Bureau (2018, June 1). Quick Facts: Lubbock County, Texas. Retrieved from: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/lubbockcountytexas/PST045217

Wallerstein, N., & Bernstein, E. (1988). Empowerment education: Freire’s ideas adapted to health education. Health Education Quarterly, 15(4), 379-394. DOI:10.1177/109019818801500402

Weaver, R. D., & Yun, S. H. (2011). Analyzing the attitude of undergraduate students toward poverty and impoverished persons: Does social work education make a difference? Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 31(1), 3-20. DOI: 10.1080/08841233.2011.539125

Weinberg, W. (2008). Structural social work: A moral compass for ethics in practice. Critical Social Work, 9(1). Retrieved from: http://www1.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocialwork/structural-social-work-a-moral-compass-for-ethics-in-practice

Weiss-Gal, I., Benyamini, Y., Ginzburg, K., Savaya, R., & Peled, E. (2009). Social workers’ and service users’ causal attributions for poverty. Social Work, 54(2), 125-133. DOI: 10.1093/sw/54.2.125

Wood, G.G. & Tully, C.T. (2006). The structural approach to direct practice in social work, 3rd ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Yun, S. H., & Weaver, R.D. (2010). Development and validation of a short form of the attitude toward poverty scale. Advances in Social Work, 11(2), 174-187.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1921/jpts.v15i3.1159


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2018 The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning