Monday, December 30, 2013

Training Social Work Graduate Students in the Evidence-Based Practice Process

The evidence-based practice (EBP) process model aids in practitioner decision-making by stressing a combination of practice wisdom and best available evidence, client culture and preferences, and the circumstances of practice.1 The model, intended to close the research-practice gap,2 has five steps for practitioners:3
  1. Determine client/community needs and preferences using well-structured questions
  2. Examine evidence to address the need
  3. Evaluate the evidence for impact, applicability, and validity
  4. Apply  best evidence to practice in a way that respects client values and available resources
  5. Evaluate practice effort for positive outcomes

The EBP process model is particularly appropriate for social work, as it adheres to the profession’s emphasis on informed consent, self-determination, competence, and respect for diversity and worthiness of individuals,4 while empowering practitioners by bolstering competence. This, coupled with a wide acceptance of the EBP model in social work education,5-8 led Bender and her colleagues to conduct a quasi-experimental study comparing a traditional program evaluation course to one that emphasized the EBP process. The researchers relied on the empirically validated Evidence-based Practice Process Assessment Scale (EBPPAS)9,10 to evaluate differences in the two groups.

Methods and Sample

All participants were enrolled in one of twelve sections of a required program evaluation course within their master’s in social work (MSW) program at a university in the western United States. Instructors taught five sections (n=86 students) using the traditional curriculum and seven sections (n=94 students) including enhanced EBP process materials. At the start of the ten-week course, willing students completed a shortened, revised EBPPAS to evaluate their baseline EBP knowledge and intent to use the EBP process. Students who completed this pretest also completed a posttest on the last day of class to determine if their thoughts toward the EBP process model had changed. Analyses were only conducted on students with both pre- and posttest scores. This resulted in a final analytic sample of 152 students in the traditional (n=60) and EBP process (n=92) courses.

Student demographics across all sections were obtained from the registrar to protect student confidentiality. Demographics are as follows:
  • Mean Age: 28 years (SD=6.1)
  • Gender: 91% female, 9% male
  • Race/Ethnicity: 79.2% White, 3.4% Asian, 3.4% Black or African American, 2.1% biracial, 0.8% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 11% unknown
  • Year in program: 79.2% second year, 20.8% advance standing (first year)

The traditional and EBP process groups did not significantly differ on EBPPAS pretest scores. At pretest, most students responded neutrally in regards to familiarity and engagement with EBP and positively to attitudes about, and intention to engage in, the EBP process.

Posttest EBPPAS scores indicate that students in the EBP process group reported significantly higher ratings of EBP familiarity; however, both groups showed significant increases from pre- to posttest. There were no significant differences between groups at posttest on attitudes about, feasibility of, intentions to engage in, or current engagement with EBP process in their work. Both groups demonstrated moderate and small increases in engagement in and attitudes toward the EBP process, respectively.


Based on the results, the authors offer several implications. First, though students in both groups demonstrated increased familiarity with the EBP process from pre- to posttest, the EBP process group showed significantly greater gains. Bender and her colleagues suggest that explicitly including the EBP process through assignments may increase students’ self-efficacy in future use of the model. Second, given that most students at pretest valued EBP, schools of social work may benefit from focusing on the content and process of EBP versus convincing students of its value. Third, students’ perceived feasibility of implementing EBP into practice did not increase from pre- to posttest and, in fact, decreased among students in the enhanced group. Feasibility often impedes the research-practice connection, so addressing students’ feasibility concerns as well as institutional and structural barriers to implementing EBP may assuage student apprehension. Finally, in terms of future research, authors suggest evaluation efforts continue by utilizing randomized designs and an unaltered EBPPAS.

For More Information

To learn more about the specific content included in the EBP process sections, check out the full article, which is currently in press online in Research on Social Work and Practice. You can also learn more about the Dr. Kimberly Bender on her faculty page.


Bender, K., Altschul, I., Yoder, J., Parrish, D., & Nickels, S.J. (in press). Training social work graduate students in the evidence-based practice process. Research on Social Work Practice. doi: 10.1177/1049731513506614


1 Mullen, E. J., Shlonsky, A., Bledsoe, S. E., & Bellamy, J. L. (2005). From concept to implementation: Challenges facing evidence-based social work. Evidence & Policy, 1, 61-84.

2 Rubin, A., & Parrish, D. E. (2012). Improving the scientific base of social work practice. In C. Dulmas & K. M. Sowers (Eds.), The profession of social work (2nd ed., pp. 203-224). Malden, MA: John Wiley.

3 Straus, S. E., Richardson, W. S., Glasziou, P., & Haynes, R. B. (2005). Asking answerable clinical questions. In Evidence-based medicine: How to practice and teach EBM (3rd ed.) (pp. 13-30). Edinburgh, UK: Elsevier.

4 National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved from

5 Drake, B., Jonson-Reid, M., Hovrnand, P., & Zayas, L. H. (2007). Adopting and teaching evidence-based practice in master’s-level social work programs. Journal of Social Work Education, 43, 431-446.

6 Edmond, T., Megivern, D., Williams, C., Rochman, E., & Howard, M. (2006). Integrating evidence-based practice and social work field education. Journal of Social Work Education, 42, 377-396.

7 Howard, M. O., McMillan, C., & Pollio, D. (2003). Teaching evidence-based practice: Toward a new paradigm for social work education. Research on Social Work Practice, 13, 234-259.

8 Rubin, A. (2007). Epilogue: The Austin initiative. Research on Social Work Practice, 17, 630-631.

9 Rubin, A., & Parrish, D. E. (2010). Development and validation of the EBP process assessment scale: Preliminary findings. Research on Social Work Practice, 20, 629-640.

10 Rubin, A., & Parrish, D. E. (2011). Validation of the EBP process assessment scale. Research on Social Work Practice, 21, 106-118.

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