Practicum Information for Faculty and TAs During COVID-19

The following is an email sent to practice course instructors on March 11, 2020. Much of this information is included in the pages for students and host organizations. Information on this page may be updated as we move forward.

Feel free to send any questions our way

Dear practicum course instructors:

We are following up on earlier emails regarding the University’s decision to transition to a virtual instructional format for the near future. We have been working on developing a plan for fulfilling the special educational requirements for the practicum courses while students are learning remotely, and wanted to share the plan we have developed so far with you.

Please let us know if you have any concerns with this plan or our proposed communications to students (attached), which we intend to send out by the end of today.

We know that you share that our first priority is the health and well-being of our students, and yet we still want to meet our goals for the practicum as a key aspect of our students’ learning experience. This situation is evolving rapidly and we expect that you have many questions, and you may be getting questions from students, too. We don’t have answers to every question yet, but we are committed to working with all of you to meet the needs of the students.

We also know that we will need to flexible around the practicum requirements in order to ensure that students are able to fulfill this part of their degree and to graduate.  Students are in different places in terms of the status of their practicum work, both students who are currently doing a practicum project and students who are planning to do their practicum during the summer.

The Office for Student Services is sending an email to students today, to address a range of issues and questions.  We will share that with you.

Our overall plan for the practicum is to have each of you continue to work with your students to determine a plan for each individual student to finish their practicum projects as best they can. The Practice Office and other parts of the Office for Education will provide as much support to you as we can.  One of us will be in touch with each of you individually to discuss plans for your students.  Our thinking so far is outlined below but we welcome your thoughts and questions about how we collectively should handle the practicum for our students.  We plan to set up a conference meeting later this week for any of you who would find that helpful.

Practicum class sessions

If you have class sessions planned during Spring2, you should conduct them virtually, in accordance with the guidance provided by the school.  The practice office and IT team can work with you to figure out the best way to do this, most likely via Zoom.

The MPH Practicum Poster Night, scheduled for May 5, 2020, will not be held.  We encourage course instructors to think about an alternative format for students to share their practicum work.  Some of you have already planned to have poster sessions or presentations in your individual classes. These could be converted to an asynchronous format (e.g., have students record a short poster presentation and post them for other students to review and comment on) or you could hold a classroom poster session “live” via Zoom.  We are happy to consult with you on figuring out a plan for your course, and will be getting in touch with each of you individually.

Guidance for students who are currently completing a practicum project

This section refers to primarily MPH-45 students but also includes second year MPH-65 students in the Health Management field of study.

Some students have finished their projects entirely, and many students have completed the field requirements of their projects and can complete their work remotely.  However, other students are still going to their practicum sites, and will need guidance about whether and how they can complete their work.

We will need to flexible around practice requirements and graduation. If a student is unable to complete their practicum project because of the COVID-19 situation, we will need to work with them to submit products based on what they are able to complete.

In terms of continuing to work at their practicum sites during Spring2 when they are attending classes remotely, we see two options for students:

  1. If students want to continue to work onsite at their host organization, they can do so if:
    • that is acceptable to the practice site and consistent with the policies that the host organization has adopted about COVID-19 and attendance at work; AND
    • they will be in compliance with other guidance issued by the University and Harvard Chan; AND
    • the arrangement has been reviewed and approved by their practicum course instructor or the MPH practice office.
  2. Students can work remotely, if working offsite is more comfortable for them and meets the needs of the project and host organization.

We will need to provide support for students and instructors to manage these arrangements for students who are still doing work in the field.

Communication to Practicum Host Organizations

Practicum host organizations are important partners of the school, and we want to be sensitive to the commitments that we and our students have made to them.  We are hopeful that, in most cases, students will be able to finish their projects.  However, we will work with students and you to communicate with any host organization where we decide, on behalf of the school, that a student cannot continue their work because of health and safety concerns.

We plan to make information available for practicum sites about the school’s policies for student work in light of COVID-19.

Guidance for students who plan to do their practicum project in the summer

This section refers to MPH-65 students, most of whom are currently in the planning stages for their practicum.

The COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly and we cannot predict what the situation will be by the end of the semester, and during the summer.  As a result, we should encourage students to continue to search for summer practicum placements.

One important issue is how to handle students who have, or are seeking, summer practicum projects that require international travel. The University’s current restrictions on certain travel are here.

The University has prohibited both international travel and non-essential domestic travel through April 30.  Any travel carried out primarily in connection with a required practicum is considered “University-related.”   If the University’s international travel ban is extended beyond April 30, most students will not able to travel internationally to work on practicum projects. However, in some cases this restriction will likely not apply (e.g., students who are returning to their home country and plan to do their practicum project there, either on-site or remotely).

In addition to Harvard’s policies on international travel, there is a possibility of governmental restrictions to entry to the U.S., for students and other travelers, which may prevent students from re-entering the U.S. in time for Fall classes.

To best support our students in completing their studies in the fall and graduating on time, we strongly recommend that, wherever possible, students complete their practicum work within the U.S.

However, this will be a nuanced issue for some students, and so we are developing a process to review international plans on a case-by-case basis as a team as needed, with the student and the practice course faculty.

Communication to summer practicum host organizations

As students develop their plans, they will need to share appropriate school and University policies with the host organization so that all parties involved are aware of how these policies may impact the proposed activities and work. We will develop a standard communication for students to use, which will include asking them and the host organization to develop a short contingency plan for working remotely if the need arises.

We will be in touch soon with each of you to discuss practicum-related questions and concerns and to continue to develop and refine our plans and communications.  Please be in touch with questions and concerns.


Stacey and Nancy