Practicum Overview


Public health is a broad social enterprise that seeks to extend the benefits of good science in ways that will have the maximum impact on the health of a community and its members. It does this by identifying problems that call for collective action to protect, promote, and improve health. Public health is unique in its interdisciplinary approach and methods, its emphasis on preventive strategies, its linkage with government and political decision making, and its dynamic adaptation to new problems placed on its agenda. (Turnock, BJ, Public Health: What it is and how it works, 2004)

Successful public health practice requires the application of practical knowledge and skills. A practicum provides an opportunity for students to integrate and apply knowledge and skills from coursework to the types of settings where they will work as public health professionals.

Individual experiences may vary but should incorporate public health competencies through participation as a member of a team within a public health setting.

Please note these are general guidelines and students should consult their advisors or course instructors for further degree program requirements.

Practicum Objectives

Objectives of the required practice placement for students include:

  • Integrating, synthesizing and applying knowledge and skills acquired at HSPH to a real world problem/issue
  • Enhancing and developing skills needed to function in a professional public health setting, particularly:
    • Problem solving and analysis
    • Interpersonal skills
    • Oral and written communication
  • Working on a substantive public health problem or issue that is salient to the sponsoring organization
  • Engaging in professional self-assessment and critical reflection

Practicum Structure

In general, for practice placements during the academic year, students are expected to work at an approved practice site a minimum of 8 -10 hours per week for one or two semesters in accordance with your program’s requirements. In addition to the practice placement, students should meeton a regular basis with the course instructor and other students. Students engaged in practice during the summer typically are engaged in practice full-time.

Acceptable Practicum Projects

Practice placements should:

  • Require the student to apply graduate level skills and competencies acquired in his/her degree program ( i.e., has “rigor”)
  • Address a practical/applied issue or problem in a “real world” setting
  • Address a problem or issue likely to be encountered in the practice of public health
  • Advance the student’s skills and knowledge
  • Focus on specific projects and deliverable
  • Be manageable in terms of the student’s time, skills, and knowledge
  • Have a preceptor who has the appropriate education and training to oversee the project, is willing to agree to the responsibilities described in the project agreement, and is approved by the instructor
  • Enhance the career potential and professional development of the student

Approval Process for Practice Placements

There are two steps in the practice placement process:

  • Step 1: There is a “Proposal” step in which the student submits a draft of the work to the practice course instructor for review and approval prior to the start of the project.
  • Step 2: Once the Proposal has been approved, a “Practice Project Agreement” must be signed by the student and the agency preceptor and submitted to the course instructor within two weeks of the start of the project. (See Practicum Project Learning Agreement Form.)

Agency/Organization Preceptor Responsibilities

  • Working with the student, develop a realistic project scope and work schedule with the student
  • At the beginning of practice placement, orient student to the organization and co-workers
  • Be available on a regular basis to meet with and supervise the student and to provide performance feedback
  • Provide resources needed to complete project (e.g., work space, computer, administrative support, access to data)
  • At conclusion of project, provide written feedback for the student and the school by completing the placement evaluation form
  • Agree to assist in student’s professional development activities (e.g., introduce students to leaders of the organization, attend meetings during practice placement, conduct informational interviews.

Methods of Evaluation

Evaluation of the student’s practice is determined by the practice course instructor.

Materials generally required include:

  • Final written project report and oral presentation
    • Presentation: varies by department; may be between 5 – 20 minutes
    • Paper with an executive summary; maximum of 15 pages, excluding sources (this also varies by department)
  • Class participation
  • Preceptor feedback on the work completed by the student
  • Other assignments as determined by instructor (e.g., reflective memos, self-assessment)