Gillings MPH Practicum Student FAQs
Note: These FAQs do not apply to the Nutrition with Registered Dietitian Training (Nutrition RD) concentration. Nutrition RD students should refer to their program handbook for information about the Nutrition RD practicum.

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Practicum Overview

What is a practicum?

A practicum is a planned, mentored, and evaluated work experience (paid or unpaid) that enables students to integrate and apply their Gillings MPH training in a professional public health setting. The practicum gives students an opportunity to:

  • Explore areas of professional interest
  • Apply and gain new public health skills
  • Contribute to organizations advancing public health
  • Network with public health professionals
  • Demonstrate competency attainment
  • Gain feedback on professional skills and performance

What is the difference between a practicum and an internship?

The terms are often used interchangeably. It is acceptable to conduct an internship if it meets all the Gillings MPH practicum requirements.

How does the practicum differ from other forms of applied learning?

There are many valuable forms of learning that encourage students to apply their academic experiences to a practical concern. The information below describes how the practicum differs from other applied learning opportunities in the Gillings MPH program.

Definition: A practicum is a planned, mentored, and evaluated work experience (paid or unpaid) that enables students to integrate and apply their Gillings MPH training in a professional public health setting.
Requirements: See “What are the Gillings MPH practicum experience requirements?”
Outputs: Two (minimum) products produced for the practicum setting, in the practicum setting that allow for attainment of five CEPH MPH Foundational Competencies
Timeline: Typically occurs at mid-point of MPH program.

Independent Study
Definition: A mechanism for a student to work on a specific topic with a faculty member for 1, 2, or 3 academic credits depending on the agreed upon scope of work.
Requirements: Student must be in good academic standing. At least three hours of independent work and one hour of contact time with the faculty adviser for the independent study per week is expected for each unit of credit. The student’s scope of work, timeline, and type and frequency of contact with the faculty adviser must be described in a learning agreement. Students may not enroll in more than 6 credits of independent study during their time in the MPH program.
Outputs: A final written paper, report, or other agreed-upon deliverable.
Timeline: Can occur at any point during a student’s course of study.

Research Assistantship
Definition: A paid work experience with a faculty member that is not for academic credit.
Requirements: Varies by research assistantship.
Outputs: Varies by research assistantship.
Timeline: Can occur at any point during a student’s course of study.

Culminating Experience
Definition: An experience at the end of a student’s plan of study that demonstrates synthesis of competencies.
Requirements: The format of the culminating experience varies by concentration, ranging from individual master’s papers and group public health crisis simulation projects to year-long community health projects.
Regardless of format, the experience must yield a high-quality written product in which students demonstrate a synthesis of at least two MPH foundational competencies and at least two MPH concentration competencies.
Outputs: One (minimum) high-quality written product that demonstrates a synthesis of at least two MPH foundational competencies and at least two MPH concentration competencies.
Timeline: Must occur during final academic term in MPH program.

What are the Gillings MPH practicum requirements?

To satisfy degree requirements, a Gillings MPH practicum must:

  • Be public health practice, research, and/or policy focused.
  • Allow for the application of graduate-level public health skills and demonstration of CEPH MPH Foundational Competencies.
  • Yield at least two student-generated products, produced in the practicum setting for the practicum setting, that allow for demonstration of five CEPH MPH Foundational Competencies.
  • Be mentored by a supervisor (preceptor) with an advanced degree in public health or related field or equivalent experience with expertise in the practicum project area.
  • Take place in a location approved for student travel (UNC Travel Policy), and the student must complete UNC Gillings International Pre-Departure Travel Requirements prior to travel if applicable.
  • Comprise a minimum of 200 hours (equivalent to five weeks of full-time work).

To ensure students are adequately prepared to integrate and apply knowledge, skills, and values from their Gillings MPH training in an applied setting, Gillings MPH students must complete SPHG 701, SPHG 711, SPHG 712, SPHG 713, SPHG 721, and SPHG 722 and have their learning agreement approved by their practicum manager prior to beginning their practicum. The following exceptions apply:

  • Population Health for Clinician concentration students may begin their practicum hours as soon as they receive approval of their practicum learning agreement from their practicum manager.
  • Veterinary students in the Leadership in Practice concentration may begin their practicum hours as soon as they receive approval of their practicum learning agreement from their practicum manager.
  • MPH/MSW dual-degree students may begin their hours as soon as they receive approval of their practicum learning agreement from their practicum manager and are registered for SOWO 821.

In extenuating circumstances and with the approval from the student’s practicum manager, academic coordinator, faculty mentor, and the Gillings MPH Practicum Director, some additional exceptions may apply.  

Which concentrations have concentration-specific practicum requirements and what are those requirements?

  • Applied Epidemiology: None.
  • Environmental Health Solutions: Students must work on a project that has environmental health relevance.
  • Health Behavior: None.
  • Health Equity, Social Justice, and Human Rights: None.
  • Health Policy: Students must complete HPM 754 prior to beginning practicum hours and must work on a project that has some policy implications.
  • Global Health: Students are required to complete their practicum either through an international or domestic placement with an organization that either works with populations outside the US or with global populations (e.g. immigrants, refugees, foreign-born) within the US. With approval from one of the Global Health Concentration Leads, some exceptions may apply.
  • Leadership in Practice: None.
  • Maternal, Child and Family Health: Students must complete a practicum by either working directly with the MCH population or their work needs to directly impact the MCH population. The practicum cannot be strictly clinical in nature (counseling, health care, etc.).
  • Nutrition: Practicum must take place in a public health/community nutrition-based agency or non- governmental organization. Other organizations must be approved by practicum manager.
  • Nutrition with Registered Dietitian Training (RD): Students must take NUTR 611, 630, 640, and 715/400 prior to beginning their practicum hours. As part of an accredited program by ACEND, Nutrition RD students must complete a minimum of 400 practicum hours (equivalent to ten weeks of full-time work), that take place within a public health/health department and/or hospital/clinical setting, and are mentored by an on-site registered dietitian/nutritionist.
  • Population Health for Clinicians: Students must be enrolled in or have already completed PUBH 749 prior to beginning their practicum hours.
  • Public Health Data Science: Students should work on a project that involves the application of data science skills. 

Practicum Activities and Products

What types of activities do students complete during the practicum?

Practicum activities must allow for application of graduate-level public health skills and be public health practice, research, and/or policy focused. Examples of practicum activities include:

  • Collect, analyze, interpret, and summarize data
  • Conduct cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit, and cost-utility analyses
  • Conduct needs assessments
  • Contribute to the measuring, reporting, and continuous improvement of programs or organizations
  • Create an advocacy campaign
  • Create infographics
  • Design programs/curricula
  • Determine the feasibility and expected outcomes of policy options
  • Develop and coordinate programs and activities
  • Develop and implement quality improvement projects
  • Develop policy recommendations
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs
  • Identify strategies for determining budget priorities based on federal, state, and local financial contributions
  • Promote public health policies, programs, and resources
  • Provide support and assistance in funding research and grant writing

Students are not limited to the activities listed above and can combine multiple activities during the practicum. Clinical work (i.e., observation and/or treatment of patients), lab-based research, and shadowing experiences are not acceptable practicum activities.

What types of products do students produce during their practicum experiences?

A product is a tangible output from the student’s practicum work. Students must produce a minimum of two products in the practicum setting, for the practicum setting that demonstrate attainment of five CEPH MPH Foundational Competencies. The preceptor and student determine the number and types of products a student completes based on the agency’s needs, time constraints, and student interests and capabilities. Multiple students can work on the same practicum product; however, each student must present documentation demonstrating individual competency attainment. Examples of practicum products include:

  • Advocacy Tool
  • Asset Mapping Report
  • Business Plan
  • Communications and Outreach Plan
  • Community Advisory Board Meeting Summary
  • Community Assessment Report
  • Community Forum Summary Report
  • Community Profile Reports
  • Conceptual Model
  • Cost-Tracking Instrument
  • Course Module
  • Curriculum
  • Data Analysis Report
  • Data Collection Instruments
  • Data Management User Guide
  • Dissemination Plan
  • Environmental Scan Report
  • Evaluation Plan
  • Evaluation Tool
  • Event Plan
  • Fact Sheet/Brief
  • Focus Group Guide
  • Formative Research Report
  • Funding Database
  • Funding Toolkit
  • Fundraising Resource Guide
  • GIS Map
  • Grant Proposal
  • Health Assessment
  • Health Communication Campaign Materials
  • Implementation Resources
  • Literature Review
  • Logic Model and Core Component List
  • Manuscript Development
  • Marketing Plan
  • Media Materials
  • Message Testing Summary Report
  • Patient Engagement Tools
  • Photovoice Findings Report
  • Policy Brief
  • Program Plan
  • Recommendations Report
  • Recruitment Materials
  • Resource Guide
  • Social Marketing Campaign
  • Strategic Plan
  • Sustainability Plan
  • Training materials
  • Video Storyboard
  • Web-based Tool

Do students need to demonstrate all five competencies in both practicum products?

Assessment of student’s competency attainment is through a portfolio approach that includes at least two products. The requirement of two products is a floor rather than a ceiling, and it may take additional products for students to demonstrate five competencies. The competencies are mapped to products, but each product does not have to map to all competencies. For example, one product (e.g., a written assignment) may demonstrate three competencies and the second product (e.g., a presentation) may demonstrate the other two competencies. As another example, students may produce five products if each one demonstrates a competency. Competencies and products differ from student to student.

Practicum Search

How do students identify practicum opportunities?

The search for a practicum opportunity parallels the process of a public health job search. Like a job, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to secure a placement; however, there are several supports available to help students with the process. Students identify practicum opportunities through those that are vetted and disseminated by Gillings through the practicum opportunities newsletter, past practicum placements, personal and/or professional contacts, faculty recommendations, Internet searches, and/or direct contact with organizations of interest.

When should students begin their practicum search?

The timeline for progressing through the practicum process varies by practicum goal and the type of opportunity the student desires. International practica, research-based practica that require going through the IRB, and practica with organizations that have extensive onboarding requirements (e.g., academic institutions; hospitals and other medical facilities; health departments; military institutions; government agencies) may take longer to plan than other types of practica, and students should plan accordingly. Students are encouraged to begin their practicum search six months prior to their desired start date for their practicum.

Whom should I contact if I need help identifying practicum opportunities?

Your  practicum manager, faculty mentor, and Gillings Career Services staff can all help you refine your goals for your practicum and help connect you with opportunities that may be a good fit; however, your practicum manager is most familiar with the new practicum requirements and has the best records on past and current opportunities. Therefore, we recommend contacting your practicum manager first. If you are interested in a Gillings School global internship or fellowship opportunity, please speak with Naya Villarreal.

Preceptor and Organization Requirements

What type of organization can host a practicum student?

Governmental, non-governmental, non-profit, industrial, for-profit settings, and university-affiliated settings are all appropriate practicum sites. University-affiliated settings must be primarily focused on community engagement, typically with external partners. University health care systems and health promotion or wellness centers may also be appropriate. Faculty-supervised lab settings are not appropriate for the practicum.

Can students do a practicum with their regular place of employment?

Students are discouraged from completing a practicum with their regular or past place of employment to gain exposure to different types of public health work, networks, and work settings. However, with approval from the student’s practicum manager, a student may do a practicum with their regular or past place of employment if the opportunity meets Gillings MPH practicum requirements and differs substantially from the student’s current/former role. For example, a student could work in a different division/department at their place of employment or work on a project that encompasses different work. If a student pursues a practicum at their regular place of employment, their preceptor must be someone other than their regular supervisor.

Who can serve as a practicum preceptor?

Practicum preceptors should have appropriate education and experience to mentor the student in the practicum’s project area and provide a meaningful learning experience. We understand that people come to public health from a range of backgrounds and expect a preceptor to have either:

  • A terminal degree (e.g., PhD or MD) and current, professional experience in public health;
  • A graduate degree in public health (e.g., MPH) and at least three years of full-time, professional experience in public health;
  • A graduate degree in a field other than public health (e.g., MS) and at least three years of full-time, professional experience in public health; OR
  • At least five years of full-time, professional public health experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree.

Preceptors should not be a student. If there is any uncertainty whether someone is qualified to serve as a preceptor, please contact your practicum manager.

Do the student-preceptor interactions need to be in-person?

In-person interaction is preferred; however, it is not always possible. If the preceptor is providing directions, feedback, and guidance throughout the practicum experience, preceptor-student interactions can be conducted remotely.

Can students work with Gillings faculty for the practicum?

To gain exposure to public health work outside of an academic setting, students are generally discouraged from completing a practicum with a Gillings faculty member. However, a student may produce a project for a practicum setting under a Gillings faculty member’s supervision if the products arise from the student having significant contact with the practicum setting. In such cases, the practicum must be approved by the student’s practicum manager and must have a co-preceptor from the practicum setting. An experience conducted solely under faculty supervision, such as a case study or simulation, or preparing a manuscript for publication, will not satisfy Gillings’ practicum requirements.

Roles and Responsibilities

What are the roles and responsibilities of a practicum student?

The student is expected to take initiative in identifying, arranging, and completing a meaningful practicum that meets Gillings MPH practicum requirements. The student:

  • Secures a practicum placement;
  • Adheres to all UNC international travel policies and registration requirements;
  • Develops a practicum learning agreement in collaboration with the preceptor and faculty mentor that is complete, accurate, and includes signatures of approval from the student, preceptor, and faculty mentor prior to submitting it to the practicum manager for final approval and signature;
  • Always maintains professionalism during the practicum experience;
  • Acts in accordance with all practicum organization rules, regulations, and professional standards including dress, personal conduct, and attendance;
  • Meets regularly with the preceptor to discuss the progress of the practicum and receive support, guidance, and feedback;
  • Maintains contact with the practicum manager and faculty mentor (as needed) regarding progress on the practicum; and
  • Completes and ensures the timely submission of all practicum assignments and products.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a preceptor?

The preceptor mentors the practicum student and supervises the practicum work. The preceptor:

  • Establishes, in collaboration with the student and the student’s faculty mentor, an appropriate and feasible scope of work, which gets documented in the student’s learning agreement, that is directly aligned with the practicum organization’s needs and provides a valuable learning experience for the student;
  • Orients the student to the health topic(s), people, policies, procedures, and norms related to the practicum work;
  • Meets regularly with the student to provide guidance, support and timely, constructive feedback;
  • Communicates with the student’s practicum manager (and the student’s faculty mentor as needed) to provide feedback on the student’s performance;
  • Models professional, ethical behavior;
  • Completes an evaluation of the student and the practicum experience; and
  • Identifies a suitable replacement if unable to continue in the role of a preceptor.

What are the roles and responsibilities of the faculty mentor?

The faculty mentor provides discipline-specific feedback and technical support for the practicum. The faculty mentor:

  • Assists mentees in refining goals for the practicum experience
  • Reviews and provides feedback on learning agreements to ensure that the proposed scope of work accounts for all steps entailed in producing the products and is feasible for the timeframe;
  • Provides technical assistance and problem-solving support during the practicum, as needed; and
  • Assesses mentees’ practicum products for competency demonstration.

What are the roles and responsibilities of the practicum manager?

The practicum manager coordinates the student’s practicum experience. The practicum manager:

  • Vets practicum opportunities to ensure they meet Gillings MPH requirements;
  • Approves the learning agreement and grants permission to begin the practicum hours;
  • Assists with onboarding requirements;
  • Provides instructions for the practicum at the beginning, middle, and end of the experience;
  • Monitors the practicum experience and problem-solves as needed; and
  • Disseminates and collects practicum assignments and evaluations.

Practicum Supports

Do students receive compensation for their practicum work?

Sometimes. Compensation for the practicum varies significantly by the type of practicum organization, project, and location. The proportion of students who secure paid practica varies by concentration.

Are students responsible for the costs associated with the practicum experience?

Yes. Students are responsible for the cost of their own travel, housing, and meals associated with completing their practicum hours.

Does Gillings provide any funding to support practica?

Yes. The school offers Schoolwide self-nominated travel awards and a global practice award for students completing a global practicum (i.e., a practicum through an international or domestic placement with an organization that either works with populations outside the US or with global populations [e.g. immigrants, refugees, foreign-born] within the US). Some awards are only available to residential MPH students whereas others are open to all graduate students. Some departments/programs have additional funds to support unmet need for the practicum.

Does the school provide any practicum housing support?

Moving to another location to complete a practicum can create additional expenses for the student. The costs associated with this are borne by the student. If the practicum placement is in North Carolina, students can apply for housing sponsored by our Area Health Education Center (

Are students guaranteed a practicum site within commuting distance of their home?

No. Gillings does not guarantee that MPH students will find a practicum within commuting distance of their current place of residence.

(International Students Only) What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and how do I apply for it?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) permits off-campus employment for F-1 students. CPT is typically authorized to allow a student to complete an internship, practicum or field experience that is necessary for degree completion. To ensure timely processing of your CPT paperwork, eligible students should apply for CPT immediately after deciding to accept a practicum offer. To begin the application process, students must schedule a meeting with their academic coordinator. The approval process typically takes about 3 weeks, but can take longer as it gets busier late in the spring semester. Please plan accordingly.

Will doing an out-of-state practicum impact my residency status next year?

We do not know. All residency decisions are made by Residency Determination Service. They consider several things when making their decision. Please see the Graduate School’s residency web page for more information. If you have additional questions, please contact