Gillings MPH Practicum: Information for Students

This 200 (minimum) hour planned, mentored, and evaluated applied practice experience (paid or unpaid) gives students an opportunity to use their Gillings MPH training in a professional public health setting.

In addition to the information on this page, it is important to review the Practicum Requirements and Roles, which are relevant to students, preceptors and faculty mentors.

This page provides further information for students, plus resources and answers to frequently asked questions.

For links to information specific to preceptors or faculty mentors, return to the Gillings MPH Practicum main page.


Role and Responsibilities of the MPH Student

Role and Responsibilities of the MPH 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 and 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;
  • Completes and ensures the timely submission of all practicum assignments and products; and
  • Submits an evaluation of the practicum.

Practicum Opportunities

Travel Policies

Travel Policies

Travel policies relevant to the practicum:

Practicum Courses

Practicum Courses

As a cost savings to students, there are no credits tied to the practicum hours. To provide support for the practicum process and award credit to practicum assignments, two practicum 0.5 credit courses sandwich the practicum hours. Students must enroll in SPHG 703 (MPH Pre-Practicum Assignments) in the term before they plan to begin their practicum hours. Residential students take SPHG 703 in spring of their first year. Students must enroll in SPHG 704 in the term concurrent to or directly after their practicum completion date. Residential students take SPHG 704 in the fall of their second year.



Prior to beginning the practicum, Gillings MPH students must complete the MPH Core (SPHG 701, SPHG 711, SPHG 712, SPHG 713, SPHG 721 and SPHG 722), SPHG 703 and receive approval from the practicum team to begin their practicum hours.

The following exceptions apply:

  • If enrolled in SPHG 703, MPH/MSW dual-degree students may begin their hours once they are registered for SOWO 821 and receive approval from the practicum team to begin their practicum hours.
  • 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 the Petition to Begin Practicum Hours Early Form. Exceptions to the practicum prerequisites must be approved by the student’s SPHG 703 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.

Timeline and Process

Timeline and Process

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. (See “Search Supports” below.)


The timeline for progressing through the practicum process varies by practicum goal and the type of opportunity the student desires. International practica, 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.

Residential (Chapel Hill-based) and distance (Asheville-based) students complete their practica 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 part-time basis, complete their practica on a rolling basis after they have completed all practicum prerequisites.

Search Supports

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. 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.
  • Opportunity databases: The School maintains 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 Team: Meg Landfried (residential), Julea Steiner (MPH@UNC and 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.

Activities and Products

Activities and Products

Practicum Activities

Practicum activities must address a health issue from a community or population (not individual) perspective and allow for application of graduate-level public health skills. Examples of practicum activities include:

  • Data collection, analysis, interpretation and reporting
  • Cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit and cost-utility analysis
  • Needs assessment
  • Program design, implementation and 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.

Practicum Products

A product is a tangible output from the student’s practicum work. Students must produce a minimum of 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. The preceptor and student determine the number and types of products a student completes based on the practicum organization’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 do not count toward the two product (minimum) practicum requirement.

Funding and Travel

Funding and Travel

Practicum Compensation

Practica can be paid or unpaid. 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.

Practicum-Related Costs

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

Gillings does not guarantee that MPH students will find a practicum within commuting distance of their current place of residence. 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 Centers. Gillings does not offer housing support for practicum students.

Funding Support

Most students who receive compensation for their practicum receive it from their practicum organization. Gillings 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 U.S. or with global populations, e.g. immigrants, refugees, foreign-born, within the U.S.). 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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Students

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Students

Have questions about our Gillings MPH Practicum? See below for answers.

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 MPH practicum team (

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.

Independent Study
Research Assistantship
Culminating Experience

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

Requirements: See the MPH Practicum Requirements and Roles.

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.

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.

Definition: A research-based 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 will best fit their interests/needs.

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

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

No. Assessment of a 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 CEPH MPH foundational 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.