This page provides important information about the requirements for the Gillings MPH practicum. The practicum is a 200 (minimum) hour planned, mentored and evaluated applied practice experience (paid or unpaid) that gives students an opportunity to use their MPH training in a professional public health setting.

Practicum Prerequisites

Learn more about prerequisites.

Prior to beginning the practicum, Gillings MPH students must 1) have final grades in SPHG 711, SPHG 712, SPHG 713, SPHG 701, SPHG 721, SPHG 722 and SPHG 703 and 2) receive approval from the practicum team to begin their practicum hours. Some concentrations require additional prerequisites (see Concentration-Specific Requirements, below).

Failure to adhere to practicum prerequisites may result in a student needing to complete an additional practicum, a penalty to their SPHG 707 grade, and/or academic ineligibility.

Gillings MPH Practicum Requirements

Learn more about the practicum requirements.

Note: These requirements do not apply to the Nutrition and Dietetics concentration. Nutrition and Dietetics students should refer to their program handbook for information about the Nutrition and Dietetics practicum.

To satisfy degree requirements, a Gillings MPH practicum must:

  • Be an applied practice experience whose purpose is to contribute to improvements in public health by informing, assessing, developing, implementing, evaluating, and/or leading policies, programs, and/or interventions at the population rather than individual level. Academic research or teaching, observation and/or treatment of patients, shadowing, and activities conducted solely under faculty supervision (e.g., case study or preparing a manuscript for publication) are not appropriate practicum activities. Students can only do a practicum with their regular place of employment if their practicum work will differ substantially from their current role and they have a preceptor who is not their regular supervisor..
  • Take place in partnership with a governmental, non-governmental, non-profit, industrial, for-profit, or appropriate university-affiliated organization. University-affiliated (refers to units engaged in academic endeavors) organizations must be primarily focused on community engagement, typically with external partners. University health promotion or wellness centers may also be appropriate. Faculty-supervised lab settings are not appropriate for the practicum.
  • Allow for the application of graduate-level public health skills.
  • Yield at least two student-generated, non-proprietary, practical work products (e.g., project plans, grant proposals, training manuals or lesson plans, surveys, memos, videos, podcasts, presentations, spreadsheets, websites, photos with accompanying explanatory text, or other digital artifacts of learning), produced for the practicum site’s use and benefit, that demonstrate attainment of five CEPH MPH Foundational Competencies. Unacceptable products are those that cannot be shared with Gillings assessors (typically a faculty member) to confirm competency attainment, reflection papers, contact hour logs, scholarly papers prepared to allow faculty to assess the experience, academic poster presentations, and other documents required for academic purposes.
  • Be mentored by a supervisor (preceptor) with public health expertise and experience (see “Preceptor Qualifications” below) to guide the practicum work who can carry out the Gillings MPH practicum preceptor responsibilities.
  • 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).

The following experiences do not qualify as practica:

  • Prior work, volunteer activities or coursework that begins prior to approval of the learning agreement.
  • Current employment. (If doing a practicum at one’s current place of employment, the practicum work must differ substantially from the student’s current/former role and their preceptor must be someone other than their regular supervisor).
  • Experiences conducted solely under faculty supervision, such as a case study or simulation or preparing a manuscript for publication.
  • Academic research.
  • Clinical work (i.e., observation and/or treatment of patients).
  • Clinical trials research.
  • Teaching assistantships.
  • Volunteering at an organization where the student is not using their public health skills.
  • Mission trips.

Concentration-Specific Requirements

Learn more about concentration-specific requirements.


  • Applied Epidemiology: Students must complete EPID 710, EPID 795 and EPID 716 prior to beginning their practicum hours.
  • Environment, Climate and Health: None.
  • Health Behavior: Students must complete HBEH 730, HBEH 750, HBEH 752 and HBEH 753 prior to beginning their practicum hours.
  • 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: Students need to have at least two Leadership in Practice concentration classes prior to beginning their practicum.
  • 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 at least one nutrition course (NUTR 705, NUTR 711 or NUTR 765) prior to beginning their practicum hours. The practicum must be nutrition focused.
  • 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 be mentored by an on-site registered dietitian/nutritionist.
  • Place-Based Health: None.
  • Population Health for Clinicians: None.
  • Public Health Data Science: Students must complete BIOS 512, BIOS 635, BIOS 645 and BIOS 650 prior to beginning their practicum hours and work on a practicum project that involves the application of data science skills.

On-Site and Remote Practicum Options

Learn more about on-site and remote practicum options.

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.

Organization Requirements

Learn more about the requirements for organizations.

Governmental, non-governmental, nonprofit, 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.

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.

Preceptor Qualifications

Learn more about the qualifications required of preceptors.


We understand that people come to public health from a range of backgrounds and expect a preceptor to have either:

  • At least five years of full-time, professional public health experience; OR
  • A graduate degree in public health or a related field and at least two years of full-time, professional public health experience.

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 UNC faculty member may serve as a preceptor if the practicum 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.

If there is any uncertainty whether someone is qualified to serve as a preceptor, please contact

International Student Requirements

Learn more about international student requirements.

International students must have Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization to complete a practicum. 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. Please plan accordingly.

Travel Policies

Learn more about travel policies relevant to the practicum.

Additional Information
Looking for more details about the practicum process? Find information specific to students or preceptors.
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