Health Behavior Practicum

MPH student, Christina Villella, documented mHealth applications for family planning in her practicum at IntraHealth in summer 2015. Read her blog

The practicum is an individualized, mentored and hands-on learning experience that serves as a bridge between an MPH student’s academic training and applied public health practice.

Students work with a public health agency during the summer between their first and second years in the program and are mentored by a preceptor in the organization. Topics are selected and the work is designed based on each student’s experience, abilities, and interests as well as the agency’s needs. Practicum students contribute in many ways, including program evaluation, curriculum development, communication and social media strategy, and formative research. Prior to and during the practicum experience, the Department supports students by offering guidance and expertise, helping each student find an appropriate placements and identifying potential funding mechanisms.

The 240-hour practicum offers students these opportunities:

  • Apply knowledge and strengthen skills learned in the classroom
  • Gain a wide perspective about the types of issues, concerns and processes that occur in the provision of public health
  • Aid in the solution of public health problems
  • Observe, learn from and be mentored by professionals in the field
  • Become responsible for products that are of value to an agency
  • Explore areas of professional interest and further refine career goals
  • Gain feedback on professional skills and abilities
  • Network with public health professionals, agencies and community groups

Student takes an unexpected path for practicum experience

Hillary with two trainers, Gloria and John, at the Nathenje training. Photo courtesy of Hillary Murphy

Hillary with two trainers, Gloria and John, at the Nathenje training. (Contributed photo from Hillary Murphy)

In summer 2015, Hillary Murphy found herself working in sub-Saharan Africa on a pilot intervention involving breastfeeding practices among mothers with HIV.

Although this practicum helped build my skills in program implementation and tailoring, it most importantly was a reminder to be open to unexpected experiences. There is no way to know what your true passions are unless you welcome opportunities that are out of your element.

Read full text of Hillary’s blog.

Agencies hosting students in recent years

Active Living By Design (Chapel Hill, NC)
Advanced Wellness Systems (Raleigh, NC)
Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research at Duke University (Durham, NC)
Center for Public Health Quality (Raleigh, NC)
Chatham County Public Health Department (Pittsboro, NC)
Clinton Foundation
Counter Tools (Carrboro, NC) (Carrboro, NC)
Feed the Children (Durham, NC and San Pedro Sula, Honduras)
FHI 360 (Durham, NC)
Friends of Residents in Long-Term Care (FORLTC) (Chapel Hill, NC)
Growing Change (Scotland County, NC)
IntraHealth International (Chapel Hill, NC)
MEASURE Evaluation (Chapel Hill, NC)
MicroMass Communications

North Carolina Division of Public Health
Orange County Department on Aging (Chapel Hill, NC)*
Prevention Partners (Chapel Hill, NC)
Project GRACE–Growing, Reaching, Advocating for Change and Empowerment (Chapel Hill, NC)
Self-Help (Durham, NC)
Student Wellness at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
UNC Center for Diabetes Translation Research (Chapel Hill, NC)
UNC Institute for Healthcare Quality Improvement (Chapel Hill, NC)
UNC School of Medicine (Chapel Hill, NC)
UNC Weight Research Program (Chapel Hill, NC)
UNC School of Medicine (Chapel Hill, NC)
UNC Department of Health Behavior (Chapel Hill, NC)
Women’s Global Health Imperative | RTI International (San Francisco, CA)
Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) (Raleigh, NC)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Atlanta, GA)
Harry Potter Alliance (remote)
Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (New Orleans, LA)
Kaiser Permanente (Pleasanton, CA)
National Association of Community Health Centers (Washington, DC)
National Council of La Raza
National Farm Medicine Center; The Marshfield Clinic (Marshfield, WI)
Obstetrics and Gynecology and Pediatrics University of Colorado, School of Medicine (Denver, CO, USA)
Prevention Institute (Oakland, CA)
United States Agency for International Development (Washington, DC)

Carolina for Kibera (Nairobi, Kenya)
Feed the Children (Durham, NC and San Pedro Sula, Honduras)
Helen Keller International
Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) Program at Christian Brothers University (Ishaka, Uganda)
Save the Children
John Snow, Inc.
Population Services International
Uganda Village Project
United States Agency for International Development Southern Africa Trade Hub (Gaborone, Botswana)
Universidad del Valle (Guatemala City, Guatemala)*

What do agencies hosting health behavior students say?

 Orange County Rape Crisis Center


“We have benefited through the research conducted and products produced. The research Amy conducted will assist us in knowing more about our Start Strong Program impacts and provide feedback that may help us increase positive impacts. It also allowed us to develop more connections to different personnel in the schools we go into for educational programs. We will also be able to use the products (reports) to inform grant reports and funding applications.” – Laurie Graham, preceptor for second-year MPH student Amy Bryson.


“Everyone thoroughly enjoyed working with Jennifer and was excited to have this scope of work launched. She provided Ipas with excellent lessons from a literature review and her research gave great insight into our organizational learning mechanisms, highlighting both our strengths and areas for improvement. This was a long needed project and I’m very pleased Jennifer is the one who got the ball rolling. As we take the project forward, there is no doubt the organization will continue to benefit from Jennifer’s contributions.” – Kara Davies, preceptor for second-year MPH student Jennifer Hill

Sheps Center

“It was great to have a student who shares our enthusiasm for community-based participatory research; someone who could take ownership of some of the work being done and impart her own knowledge and skills. Our research team has experienced significant changes in recent months, and having someone to help us stay focused on the tasks at hand was integral to our time-sensitive projects.” – Sable Watson, Sheps Center colleague of second-year MPH student Phenesse Dunlap

See our Community Partners page if you are interested in hosting a practicum student or a Capstone team.

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