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 knowledge, skills, and values from their Gillings MPH training in a practical, professional, public or private public health environment such as a nonprofit organization, hospital, local or state health department, or for-profit firm.

The practicum gives students an opportunity to:

  • Enhance their public health skills
  • Explore areas of professional interest
  • Contribute to the work and impact of organizations advancing public health
  • Observe, learn from, and network with public health professionals
  • Gain feedback on professional skills and performance
  • Demonstrate competency attainment

What is the difference between a practicum and an internship?

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


What are the components of the Gillings MPH practicum?

The Gillings MPH practicum has three components:

  1. A two-credit practicum preparation course (SPHG 701: MPH Practicum Preparation) that provides support for the practicum process and trains students on how to ethically, meaningfully, and professionally engage with practicum organizations and their stakeholders through critical consciousness raising and skill building in leadership and interprofessional practice. NOTE: Population Health for Clinicians substitutes PUBH 749 for SPHG 701.
  2. A zero-credit 200 (minimum) hour practicum experience (see What is a practicum? and What are the Gillings MPH practicum experience requirements?).
  3. A one-credit practicum reflection course (SPHG 702: MPH Practicum Reflection) that awards credit to a series of activities designed to facilitate critical reflection on, and sharing of, practicum experiences. Completion of the required activities helps students translate their practicum work into their long-term career goals.

Our goal for the Gillings MPH practicum program is to facilitate high-quality, equitable, and consistent practicum supports and experiences for all Gillings MPH students with an ongoing commitment to:

  • Ensuring all MPH students have a strong grounding in public health practice;
  • Facilitating opportunities for students to develop skills that support their career goals and employability;
  • Increasing the impact of MPH practice activities within the state and beyond;
  • Strengthening campus-community partnerships; and
  • Feasibly meeting and documenting Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accreditation 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 particular practical concern. The information below describes how the practicum differs from other applied learning opportunities in the Gillings MPH program.

Practicum
Definition: A planned, mentored, and evaluated work experience (paid or unpaid) that enables students to integrate and apply knowledge, skills, and values from their Gillings MPH training in a practical, professional, public or private public health environment such as a nonprofit organization, hospital, local or state health department, or for-profit firm.
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 experience requirements?

In order to meet graduation requirements, a Gillings MPH practicum experience must:

  1. Be public health practice, research, and/or policy focused.
  2. Allow for the application of graduate-level public health skills and demonstration of CEPH MPH Foundational Competencies.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Comprise a minimum of 200 hours (equivalent to five weeks of full-time work).
  6. 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.

Which concentrations have concentration-specific practicum experience 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 their 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: Students must take NUTR 611 and NUTR 705 prior to beginning their practicum hours. Experience must take place in a public health/community nutrition-based agency or non-governmental organization. Other organizations must be approved by the practicum manager.
  • Population Health for Clinicians: None.
  • Public Health Data Science: None.

Practicum Experience

When can students begin their practicum hours?

Students can begin their practicum hours after completing the Gillings MPH Core courses (SPHG 711, 712, 713, 721, and 722) and the MPH practicum preparation course (SPHG 701), provided that their practicum manager approves their learning agreement. The following groups may begin their practicum hours prior to completing the MPH Core and practicum preparation course:

  • 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 adviser, faculty mentor, and the Gillings MPH Practicum Director, some additional exceptions may apply. 


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. The table below provides examples of practicum products.

  • 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.


Can students do more than one practicum?

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 adviser to identify what other type of applied learning structure (see below) will best fit their interests/needs.


Practicum Courses

When should students register for the practicum preparation course (SPHG 701: MPH Practicum Preparation)?

Prerequisites for SPHG 701 are SPHG 711, 712, and 713, or their approved substitutes. Residential (i.e., those completing the degree on-campus at UNC Chapel Hill) and Asheville students should register for SPHG 701 during the spring of their first year concurrent to taking SPHG 721 and SPHG 722. Generally speaking, MPH@UNC students should register for SPHG 701 in the term prior to their desired start date for their practicum hours (see When can students begin their practicum hours?). Given the variety of timelines for the MPH@UNC and the many factors leading to a desired start date for the practicum, MPH@UNC students should seek advice on when to register for SPHG 701 from their practicum manager. Population Health for Clinicians concentration students substitute PHLP 749 for SPHG 701 and should refer to their plan of study to determine when to register for PHLP 749.


When should students register for the practicum reflection course (SPHG 702: MPH Practicum Reflection)?

Residential and Asheville students should register for SPHG 702 in the fall of their second year. MPH@UNC students should register for SPHG 702 in the term following or concurrent to their timeline for completing their practicum hours. All students must complete their practicum hours and submit their practicum products within one month of the last day of classes for the term in which they are registered for SPHG 702.


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, past practicum placements, personal and/or professional contacts, faculty recommendations, Internet searches, or direct contact with organizations of interest.


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

Your section instructor, 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, speak with Naya Villarreal.


Do students need to begin their practicum search prior to being enrolled in the practicum preparation course (SPHG 701: MPH Practicum Preparation)?

It depends. 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.


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 in order 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. As long as the preceptor is providing directions, feedback, and guidance throughout the practicum experience, preceptor-student interactions can be conducted via Zoom, Skype, email, phone calls, etc.


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 as needed;
  • 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?

Preceptors mentor the practicum student and supervise 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:

  • Assist 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 evaluations.

Who is my practicum manager?

Applied Epidemiology (Residential): Julea Steiner

Environmental Health Solutions (Residential): Patsy Polston

Global Health (Residential): Patsy Polston

Health Behavior (Residential): Patsy Polston

Health Equity, Social Justice and Human Rights (Residential): Patsy Polston

Health Policy (MPH@UNC): Julea Steiner

Health Policy (Residential): Julea Steiner

Leadership in Practice (Asheville): Sarah Thatch

Leadership in Practice (MPH@UNC): Julea Steiner

Leadership in Practice (Residential): Jennifer Cole

Maternal, Child and Family Health (Residential): Jennifer Cole

Nutrition (MPH@UNC): Julea Steiner

Nutrition (Residential): Julea Steiner

Population Health for Clinicians (Residential): Julea Steiner

Public Health Data Science (Residential): Julea Steiner


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. For those students who do receive funding from their practicum organization, the average rate of compensation is $16-26/hour.


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 (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.


(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 Adviser. The approval process typically takes about 3 weeks, but can take longer as it gets busier late in the spring semester. Be sure to plan accordingly.


Will doing a practicum in my home state impact my residency status next year?

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.