MPH Practicum Overview for Preceptors

What is a Practicum project?

The goal of the Practicum project is to provide students an opportunity to integrate and apply the public health knowledge and competencies gained in the classroom to a real world public health problem. All professional Masters (MPH) students at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are required to complete a Practicum project during their program of study, working as individuals or as members of a practicum team. Practicum projects are approved by practice course faculty in a student’s field of study and completed under the supervision of a Preceptor at the host organization. The student should provide the host organization with a mutually agreed-upon deliverable at the conclusion of the project. Students must also submit two “products” to their practice course faculty to document proficiency in five competencies; this is a requirement for all students in accredited schools and programs of public health. At the completion of the project, students are required to give an oral presentation to classmates and submit a written report. The Practicum project is one means by which our faculty assesses student readiness to graduate and practice public health.

Practicum projects during the academic year (for MPH-45 students) must be a minimum of 120 hours, and summer practicum projects (for MPH-65 students) must be a minimum of 200 hours. Depending on the nature of the project, an MPH-65 student may start their work in the spring and continue into the summer, or do all of the work during the summer.

Examples of past projects can be found here.

What are the criteria for a Practicum project?

Individual or team projects are acceptable. Team projects should be designed for teams of no more than 3 students, or with the permission of course faculty and host organization.  A Practicum project must meet the following criteria:

  • Addresses a problem that has significance to your organization, and will result in a deliverable that helps to provide your organization with a solution to the problem
  • Has a specific, well-defined project scope that can be accomplished successfully within the time and with the skills and knowledge of the student or student team
  • Requires the student(s) to demonstrate and apply graduate level skills and competencies to the type of problem or issue that they are likely to encounter in public health practice
  • Requires a significant amount of work from each student working on the project; the work schedule should be based on a discussion of your organization’s needs and student availability
  • Will be supervised by a preceptor at your organization who agrees to the responsibilities outlined below, and is acceptable to the course instructor
  • Will enhance the professional development of the student or student team

What is the role of the Practicum preceptor?

Your organization must designate a Preceptor who will provide guidance to the student or student team. The Preceptor is a critical element of the practicum project.  We hope that the preceptor will not only supervise the project, but also mentor the student in their development as a public health professional.

The responsibilities of the Preceptor are to:

  • Orient the student or student team to the organization and the project
  • Develop a realistic project plan and work schedule with the student(s)
  • Be available on a regular basis to meet with and supervise the student(s)
  • Provide the guidance and support necessary for successful completion of the project, and on-going feedback about the performance of the student(s)
  • Arrange for the student(s) to obtain any resources needed to complete the project (e.g., appropriate data, access to key personnel, work space, administrative support as appropriate)
  • Try to assist the students in their professional development (i.e. help them meet leaders of the organization and network, arrange for them to attend meetings during the placement, etc.)
  • Complete a Final evaluations of the student(s).

Approval Process for Practicum Placements

  • A “Learning Agreement” must be signed by the student and the organization’s preceptor and submitted to the course instructor prior to the start of the project. A link will be sent to the Preceptor to sign electronically.

Methods of Evaluation

Organizations are asked to provide feedback at the conclusion of the Practicum experience (more details and sample evaluations available here).

  • Organization Midpoint Evaluation (Not required): Brief evaluation of student(s) and work thus far. This evaluation is encouraged as a conversational tool to provide constructive feedback early in the professional relationship.
  • Organization Final Evaluation (Required): Final evaluation of student(s) work and of the Practicum experience.

Evaluation of the student’s Practicum is determined by the Practicum course instructor. Required materials generally include:

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