Gillings MPH Practicum Preceptor FAQs

Have questions about our Gillings MPH Practicum?
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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:

  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. 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.
  6. 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.

When do students complete their practicum hours?

Our residential (Chapel Hill-based) and distance (Asheville-based) students typically complete their practicum hours over the summer in a concentrated block of time. Our MPH@UNC students (online) typically complete their practicum hours on a part-time basis and may span several semesters in doing so.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. Practicum organizations are encouraged to provide a living wage.

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.

Who do I contact for questions?

If you have a question about the practicum, please email