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  • Writer's pictureDr. Joanna Robson

What is the NC-SARA program, and what does it mean for continuing education?

Updated: May 4, 2019


How to make a difference when legislation doesn't allow it?

This morning I woke up angry, angry about having my hands-tied about an opportunity to make a difference. Some of you saw my previous post on FB a month back about having to make a very hard decision...a decision that didn't feel right. It STILL doesn't feel right. And then some of you had further questions about the details. I've had time to settle down, and now I think it's important to spread some knowledge about the NC-SARA program, especially as more people are turning to distance learning for second careers, continuing education, etc.

Back in February I applied for a graduate school MSSW program in TN - the ONLY program that offers a Masters in Social Work with a Veterinary Certificate - my passion is to make a difference for my colleagues, for my industry. To counsel and coach people to better well-being and self-compassion, in turn providing better care for clients and their animals (or whatever field they find themselves in). Ripple effect. Dr. Elizabeth Strand is spear-heading this program at UT, and it's amazing. It was an intense - and had to happen VERY fast to hit a deadline 'once a year-only' acceptance- application process, and after waiting three weeks - I was declined. I reeled. WHAT?! I know I've been out of school almost 20 years, but I was an Honors Program DVM, my resume is a text book...what had I done wrong? So I picked myself up and called Admissions (thank you Les Mills for teaching me about feedback and bravery) - "what do I need to do to make myself competitive for this program?"

- "Nothing. You are an excellent candidate and We WANT you in our program. BUT - you live in California." - "Yes, I applied for distance learning so I can continue working at my practice to pay for my education." - "Yes, but California is not a member of the NC-SARA program." - "The what?" - "We've been trying for a decade to get them on board!"

NC-SARA -- "A State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) is an agreement among its member states, districts and U.S. territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance-education courses and programs." The secondary specific issue in my situation is the field intern hours required for a MSSW or Clin. Psych. program.

If you look at the map, CA is now the ONLY STATE that does not participate in this program, citing such things as protecting consumers after such debacles as the Corinthian Colleges 2015 affair. I'm not downplaying that nor the victimization of people by fly-by-night for-profit colleges, but if one follows the money it's an obvious hold to keep funds inside our state.

However, as a potential student looking to shift and make a profound difference in my industry, via a program that is the only one of its kind, I'm angry. There's been no legislation introduced to make a change, so it can't even be addressed. There's no direct contact in our state government to discuss this with.

Meanwhile, I was accepted to the UTenn program after discussion with Admissions, IF I Knoxville, or a reciprocity state. I thought about it seriously...literally until the last 30 seconds. And I declined. I regret it. I'm being real. California is beautiful, but it's a rat-race. With a bloated government, red tape at literally every turn, a brutal environment for small business owners like myself, and people (my clients) daily fleeing to a better quality of life. I think I'd see more of my homeland if I was a visitor.

That said, on the upside? Things happen for a reason, and I know I will look back on this time with complete understanding of why it happened this way. And nothing is finite, these experiences cause growth and introspection. I will begin the UTenn Human-Veterinary Support Certificate in July, and am beginning training this month to become an eCPR facilitator to better spread compassionate awareness, embodied listening, and self-care skills, still determined to make that impact on my industry and to better lives...including my own. And the right people are stepping forward, people with the same vision, and there is strength in numbers. I get to continue working with my awesome clients and their beautiful horses and dogs, show and enjoy my own horses, and enjoy our beautiful Spring and Summer, and I get to stay with my Bodycombat crew that I deeply love and think of as family.

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