Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Mary Lagerwey

Second Advisor

Dr. Kieran Fogarty

Third Advisor

Dr. Guy Brewer


Professional identity, social work, undergraduate students, religious identity, identity integration, interdisciplinary health sciences


Undergraduate social work programs are responsible to prepare students who will practice in accordance with the NASW Code of Ethics. Such preparation is not simply limited to developing a body of knowledge or set of skills but extends to adoption of a professional identity. Several research studies point to religious values as a significant motivational factor in choosing social work as a profession, yet little research has been conducted to investigate the integration of religious identity with an emerging professional identity. The current study sought to explore the experience of professional identity formation in undergraduate Christian social work students for whom religion was a central part of life. Narrative interviews were conducted with nine BSW students, aged 19-24, enrolled at public universities in the Midwest. Sociological and psychological identity theories, along with developmental theories, were utilized to examine challenges to professional identity and methods utilized for overcoming challenges. Data analysis revealed common storyline and themes in professional identity development, as well as in integration of religious identity with professional identity. This study demonstrated that conflict with religious identity, among other factors, can pose a threat to emerging professional identity. Participants, however, employed a variety of coping mechanisms to manage conflict between professional identity and religious identity while ultimately voicing a commitment to uphold values and ethics of the social work profession. Further research of undergraduate professional identity development, with religious and non-religious students, is recommended to better understand how social work faculty may assess, support, and intervene in this professional development.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access