Preparing for the Practice Experience

Overview of Practice: Given by Harvard T.H. Chan School Alumna Laurie Pascal, Class of 1995

Practice Video

Video Chapters

  1. Introduction
  2. Finding a Lead
  3. Finding a Good Fit
  4. Asking for Help
  5. Preparing for the First Meeting
  6. First Impressions
  7. Deciding on a Preceptor
  8. After the Meeting
  9. Advice
  10. Making an Impact
  11. Final Reflections

Preparing for the Practice Experience

In order to have a meaningful and valuable practice experience, the following are suggestions for establishing your practice experience:

Step 1: Organization of Information

Organize the information necessary for an effective Practicum search. Students are advised to search for a Practicum placement 3 to 6 months before the practice is to begin. Items helpful in seeking a practice opportunity include:

  • Doing a self-assessment of your skills and competencies
  • Determining your Practicum objectives and focus area
  • Having a current resume or CV that reflects your skill set
  • Writing samples
  • Creating a networking contact list for your practicum search

*For assistance in the development of resumes or CVs, writing samples, and many other areas contact Harvard Chan School Office for Alumni Affairs and Career Advancement

Step 2: Self-Assessment

The starting point in the practicum process is identifying your skills and competencies. Questions to ask:

  • What are the practice requirements of my program?
  • What skills and competencies do I possess?
  • What new skills and competencies do I want to develop?
  • What is important to me in the work setting?
    • What is my function (e.g. outreach, financial analysis, program design and/or evaluation, etc.)?
    • What level of responsibility do I want (e.g. supervision or independent)?
    • What types of organizational missions and goals are of interest to me?
    • What constraints are there regarding travel?
  • What can I contribute to an agency or organization?
  • What do I need to do to grow professionally?

Your resume should identify your skills and competencies clearly to a potential preceptor. Below are some tips to help you get started:

  • Use action terms, for example: “coordinate research projects,” “design and evaluate family planning project,” “perform cost-benefit analysis,” or “manage primary health care financing project.” Identify these skills from previous work experiences and your Harvard Chan School coursework where you have gained experience.
  • Reflect your knowledge of specific subjects, procedures, and information necessary to perform particular tasks. For example: knowledge of Microsoft Office or SAS;  ability to speak and write another language; professional writing and publishing experience; or prior management experience.
  • Personality characteristics contribute to expertise and can be expressed as: patient, diplomatic, results-oriented, and independent or team-oriented.

Step 3: Networking

Networking involves the development of relationships with people who can provide current information in your specific field of interest. It is also the best way to acquire a quality Practicum experience.

Networking is a skill acquired through practice. Start by locating resources to begin the networking process and identifying a network of people who can provide you with relevant information and referrals to those in a position to offer a practice experience.

Many students take advantage of winter and spring break or long weekends to contact potential preceptors. Learn as much as possible about the organization ahead of time so that you have a clear idea of what questions to ask. Prepare intelligent questions that will draw the potential preceptor into a discussion that allows you to learn about the experience in the field and in this organization in particular. Ideally, you will also be able to demonstrate your knowledge or skills.

Potential resources to build your network are your practice course instructor, fellow students, faculty advisors, Career Advancement Office, and people you meet at organization briefings and through professional organizations or associations.

Step 4: Investigation of practice opportunities

The next step is to gather information, and evaluate Practicum options. You will want to learn about the agency’s profile, culture, mission, areas of specialization, major accomplishments, and current issues. The key is to find a practice opportunity that will contribute to the work of the agency or organization while enhancing your development as a public health professional.

Students are encouraged to seek information of practice opportunities and advice from their practice course instructor, faculty advisors, or fellow students. CareerConnect is also an important source of potential Practicum placements.