In order to demonstrate an MPH student’s ability to apply public health concepts, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) requires that accredited MPH programs include a field-training event or practicum that is relevant to a student’s area of specialization. The practicum gives MPH students the opportunity to integrate and synthesize the knowledge, skills and training provided by the public health curriculum and to gain hands-on experience in a public health professional environment. It serves as a bridge between a student’s academic training and professional public health practice that addresses real-world issues.
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The practicum project serves as an individualized culminating experience for the MPH degree. The project site is selected by the student under the guidance of program faculty. The practicum should focus on public health research, practice or service that aligns with the student’s public health interests. Most public health schools have developed relationships with a variety of public health organizations that are willing to work with students to complete practicum requirements. Many public health programs support local, national and international practicum experiences. Depending on the setting, the practicum is either paid or unpaid.
Students are usually eligible to begin working on their practicum upon completion of core MPH coursework. Many MPH programs grant students some flexibility in completing the practicum, allowing it to be concentrated into a single semester or spread out over multiple semesters. Before commencing, students must define the goals and objectives of the targeted project or service. Since the practicum will be evaluated upon completion, the goals should be well defined, time-bound and measurable.
Throughout the practicum experience, students receive mentoring from faculty and public health professionals at the project site. Completing a practicum usually requires a student to log a predetermined number of hours and to summarize project results with a written report and professional presentation. The completion of the practicum represents the final requirement for the MPH degree and takes the place of a final examination.
Many MPH programs require students to gain practical experience through public health internships during the summer between their first and second years of study. The practicum provides an additional opportunity for students to apply classroom theories to real-world public health challenges. It represents a three-way learning partnership between the student, MPH faculty and sponsoring public health organizations. Ideally, the practicum should contribute to community health resources and to the solution of public health problems while developing the student’s confidence and skill as a public health professional.
Each student will bring a different level of public health knowledge and experience to the practicum. Students who are working public health professionals should approach the practicum as an opportunity to hone their skills and to become familiar with a different area of specialization. In some cases, students with several years of public health employment may be eligible for a practicum waiver. Students in dual degree programs (MD/MPH, JD/MPH, PharmD/MPH, etc.) may also be allowed to waive the practicum requirement and complete a designated number of field training hours in their degree area in its place.