Gillings MPH Practicum 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.

Have questions about our Gillings MPH Practicum?
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Requirements

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 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.
  • Yield at least two student-generated, practical, non-academic work products, produced for the practicum site’s use and benefit, that demonstrate attainment of five CEPH MPH Foundational Competencies.
  • Be mentored by a supervisor (preceptor) with public health expertise and experience to guide the practicum work.
  • 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).

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

  • Applied Epidemiology: Students must complete EPID 716 prior to beginning their practicum hours.
  • 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.
  • Global Health: None.
  • Leadership in Practice: None.
  • Maternal, Child and Family Health: Students must either work directly with the MCFH population or their work must directly impact the MCFH population. The practicum cannot be strictly clinical in nature (counseling, health care, etc.).
  • Nutrition: Students must take NUTR 705 prior to beginning their practicum hours. Practicum must take place in a public health/community nutrition-based agency or non- governmental organization. Other organizations must be approved by the Nutrition concentration lead.
  • Nutrition and Dietetics: 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 and Dietetics 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.
  • Place-Based Health: None.
  • 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.

What are the practicum prerequisites?

Prior to beginning the practicum, Gillings MPH students must complete SPHG 701, SPHG 711, SPHG 712, SPHG 713, SPHG 721, and SPHG 722 and receive permission from their practicum lead to begin their practicum hours. The following exceptions apply:

  • Population Health for Clinician concentration students may begin their practicum hours once they submit a finalized, signed learning agreement and receive permission from their practicum lead to begin their practicum hours.
  • Veterinary students in the Leadership in Practice concentration may begin their practicum hours once they submit a finalized, signed learning agreement and receive permission from their practicum lead to begin their practicum hours.
  • MPH/MSW dual-degree students may begin their hours once they are registered for SOWO 821; submit a finalized, signed learning agreement; receive permission from their practicum lead to begin their practicum.

In extenuating circumstances such as medical, mental health, financial, and/or personal situations, a student may petition to begin their practicum early by filling out this form. Exceptions to the practicum prerequisites must be approved by the student’s SPHG 701 instructor, academic coordinator, faculty mentor, and the Gillings MPH Practicum Director.

Availability of a practicum opportunity prior to completing practicum prerequisites is not considered an extenuating circumstance.


What is the relationship between SPHG 701, SPHG 702, and the practicum?

As a cost savings to students, there are no credits tied to the practicum hours themselves. Practicum search supports are provided separate from coursework; however, practicum assignments are embedded in SPHG 701 and SPHG 702 to award credit to those endeavors. Students receive credit for selecting their practicum and outlining a scope of work in SPHG 701. Students receive credit for their mid-practicum email, practicum products, and practicum evaluations in SPHG 702.


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.


Can students do more than one practicum?

No. The Gillings MPH practicum program is designed to support one practicum experience with one practicum organization per student. If students would like to do additional practicum-like work, they may do so outside of the structure of the Gillings MPH practicum program and should speak to their academic coordinator to identify what other type of applied learning structure (see below) will best fit their interests/needs.


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.

Practicum
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 student-generated, practical, non-academic work products, produced for the practicum site’s use and benefit, that demonstrate 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.


(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.


Does 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 grad_residency@unc.edu.


Activities and Products

When do students do their practicum?


Residential (Chapel Hill-based) and distance (Asheville-based) students complete their practicum over the summer between the first and second year of the MPH program. MPH@UNC (online) students, many of whom are taking courses on a parttime basis, complete their practica on a rolling basis after they have completed all practicum prerequisites.

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:

  • Data collection, analysis, interpretation, and reporting
  • Cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit, and cost-utility analyses
  • Needs assessments
  • Program design, implementation, evaluation
  • Quality improvement
  • Policy advocacy
  • Budgeting
  • 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 student-generated, practical, non-academic work products, produced for the practicum site’s use and benefit, 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 project; however, each student must produce at least two products that demonstrate individual competency attainment. Examples of practicum products include:

  • Conceptual Models
  • Curricula
  • Databases
  • Grant Proposals
  • Guides (e.g., fundraising, resource, user)
  • Instruments (e.g., data collection, cost-tracking)
  • Manuscripts
  • Materials (e.g, communication, media)
  • Literature Reviews
  • Logic Models
  • Plans (e.g., engagement, program, evaluation, marketing, dissemination)
  • Policy Briefs
  • Presentations
  • Reports
  • Spreadsheets
  • Tools  (e.g., advocacy, evaluation, funding, patient engagement)
  • Toolkits
  • Websites

Reflection papers, contact hour logs, scholarly papers prepared to allow faculty to assess the experience, poster presentations, and other documents required for academic purposes may not be counted toward the minimum of two work products 


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

No. 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 report) 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.


Search Supports

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 practicum; 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 at least six months prior to their desired start date for their practicum. 


What supports are available to assist students with the practicum search process?

Practicum search supports include:

  • MPH Weekly Practicum Opportunities Newsletter: An electronic newsletter that includes vetted practicum opportunities from our community partners; unvetted opportunities that may satisfy Gillings MPH practicum requirements; practicum funding resources; events related to the practicum search, selection, and onboarding process; and additional practicum supports.
  • Practicum webpage: In addition to providing general information about the practicum, our webpage includes databases of current opportunities and past practicum placements.
  • MPH Practicum Resources Sakai site: A one-stop-shop for templates, workshops, and other resources to help MPH students find, apply for, and succeed in their practica.
  • Gillings Career Services: Provides support with the career services aspects (e.g., resume and cover letter critiques, networking, interviewing preparation) of the practicum search process.
  • Practicum Information Sessions: The practicum team hosts information sessions every few months to provide just-in-time practicum supports. These information sessions are archived on the MPH Practicum Resources Sakai Site.
  • Practicum Leads: Meg Landfried (residential), Julea Steiner (MPH@UNC and Population Health for Clinicians), and Sarah Thach (Asheville) provide programmatic support for the practicum search process.
  • Faculty Mentors: Students’ faculty mentors are expected to assist their mentees with the practicum search process by helping students refine their goals for the practicum experience and identify relevant practicum opportunities.

Whom should students contact if they need help identifying practicum opportunities?

Faculty mentors have the most extensive networks specific to students’ concentrations. Students interested in a Gillings School global internship or fellowship opportunity, should speak with Naya Villarreal. For additional support, students should contact the practicum lead for their delivery format: Meg Landfried (residential), Julea Steiner (MPH@UNC and Population Health for Clinicians), or Sarah Thach (Asheville).


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 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 must have appropriate public health expertise and experience to guide the practicum work. 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 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., MSW) 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.

If there is any uncertainty whether someone is qualified to serve as a preceptor, please contact mphpracticum@unc.edu.


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 and for accreditation reasons, students are generally discouraged from completing a practicum with a Gillings faculty member. However, a student may complete a practicum under a Gillings faculty member’s supervision if the products arise from the student having significant contact with a practice setting. In such cases, the practicum must have a co-preceptor from the practice setting. An experience conducted solely under faculty supervision, such as a case study or simulation, or preparing a manuscript for publication, does not meet accreditation criteria and 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;
  • 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 team and faculty mentor (as needed) regarding progress on the practicum; and
  • Completes and ensures the timely submission of all practicum assignments and products.
  • Submits an evaluation of the practicum

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 the student in refining goals for the practicum experience
  • Reviews and provides feedback on learning agreement 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 the student’s practicum products for competency demonstration.

What are the roles and responsibilities of the MPH practicum leads?

MPH practicum leads, Meg Landfried (residential), Julea Steiner (MPH@UNC and Population Health for Clinicians), and Sarah Thach (Asheville) manage students’ practicum experiences. They:

  • Provide programmatic support for the practicum process;
  • Vet practicum opportunities to ensure they meet Gillings MPH requirements;
  • Grant students permission to begin the practicum;
  • Assist with onboarding requirements;
  • Provide instructions for the practicum at the beginning, middle, and end of the experience;
  • Monitor the practicum experience and problem-solve as needed; and
  • Disseminate and collect practicum assignments and evaluations.

Funding and Lodging

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?

No. 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 (https://www.ncahec.net/student-services/student-housing/).


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.


Submit a Practicum Opportunity

How do I submit a practicum opportunity?

If you have a practicum opportunity to share with Gillings MPH students, please fill out this form. Gillings practicum staff will review your submission and if it meets Gillings MPH practicum requirements, your opportunity will be emailed out to students and added to a practicum opportunities database that is available to Gillings students on a password-protected webpage.


What is the deadline for submitting a practicum opportunity?

There is no deadline for submitting a practicum opportunity given that across our MPH program delivery formats (residential, distance, and online) we always have students looking for practica. That said, the majority of our students do their practica over the summer and have to secure a practicum by early April. For summer practica, we recommend submitting your practicum opportunity by mid-March at the latest. The earlier you submit an opportunity, the larger the applicant pool.