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.
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
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 Practice Placements
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 deliverables
- 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: “Proposal Form” is used by some departments as a preliminary step in the practice selection process. It is completed by the student and submitted to the practice course instructor for review and approval prior to the start of the project (See practice Proposal Form )
- Step 2: Once the Proposal Form has been approved, a “Practice Placement 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 Practice Placement 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 or degree program leaders. Check with your department for details.
Materials generally required include:
- Final written project report and oral presentation
- Presentation: 15-20 minutes
- Paper with an executive summary; maximum of 15 pages, excluding sources,
- Class participation (when required)
- Other assignments as determined by instructor (e.g., reflective memos, self-assessment)
Human Subjects Requirements
Any practicum project involving research on human subjects or analysis of identifiable data from human subjects may require pre-clearance by HSPH’s Human Subjects Committee (HSC).
Students should consult the HSC’s Guidelines for Class-Based Research and discuss with their advisors whether their project may require clearance (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hsc/forms.html).
It is the student’s responsibility to inform the advisor of any planned interaction with human subjects or data from human subjects for research purposes, so that the advisor may evaluate the need for HSC review. Because HSC review may take up to three months, students who plan to work with human subjects or identifiable data must initiate the review process at the earliest possible date.
Regardless of whether the project requires HSC approval, students should bear in mind that all work products they complete for an organization must be submitted to the course instructors or program leaders. In certain cases it may be appropriate to inform persons from whom information is being gathered that the report will be submitted to faculty members, and to describe your plans for protecting the confidentiality of the person(s), or data that can be ascribed to them, that will be performed prior to submission. No assurances of confidentiality should be made except by agreement with the HSPH course instructor and program leader.
Practicum Policy Waiver
“A planned, supervised, and evaluated practical experience is an essential component of a professional public health degree program.”1 At the Harvard School of Public Health we do not anticipate there will be circumstances under which a professional student would be exempt from the practice requirement.
1From the CEPH Accreditation Criteria: Schools of Public Health, Amended June 2005.