Internships and practicums give public health students practical learning experiences and the opportunity to work alongside professionals in their field. Internships are beneficial for students and employers. LookSharp's 2016 State of Millennial Hiring found that 81% of students said field experiences helped them decide if they were in the right career or needed to reevaluate their career goals. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports more than 72% of internship hosts offer jobs to their students. The survey also found that former interns outperform their inexperienced colleagues or those who interned with another organization.

Public health internships provide a more realistic glimpse into the day-to-day work of specialized health professionals.

Many public health schools require students to complete some experiential field work before graduation. While both practicums and internships provide the opportunity to apply skills and knowledge, the two are not interchangeable. Practicums often focus on one specific research question. Students may develop their practicum question or work with a public health professional or agency on a project. Students typically work with a preceptor, who is a professional in the field or a member of the faculty. Preceptors guide the student's work, providing suggestions and reviewing findings. Most practicums do not offer paid positions for students, but may offer some financial assistance for necessary expenses, such as travel to an international work site.

Public health internships provide a more realistic glimpse into the day-to-day work of specialized health professionals. Students may work for a specific department for the duration of the course, or the program may offer rotations to allow students a greater breadth of experience. Required hours vary from school to school. Students may work a few hours a week or full time.

What Will I Do for My Public Health Internship or Practicum?

Public health internships require students to apply the skills they develop in the classroom to specific health questions. Many internship programs bring students together for seminars, lectures, and leadership training, as well as offer individual work with supervisors and mentors writing grants, promoting health programs, and analyzing health statistics. Individuals focusing on public policy may work in state legislative offices or with members of Congress to evaluate proposed legislation and report on public health issues involving government funding. Students typically prepare written or oral presentations of their work to present to the faculty internship director at the conclusion of their fieldwork.

In Which Type of Setting Will I Work?

Students should seek public health internships aligned with their career interests, such as government agencies or community-based organizations working on issues of health access, communicable disease, or mental health. Possible work sites include government agencies, such as the National Health Institute and Centers for Disease Control. State departments of health also provide internships. Additionally, many students find opportunities in community-based agencies, such as local health departments, hospitals, and rural health clinics. Many schools maintain strong relationships with organizations in their region, but students attending school online may need to make arrangements for internships on their own.

How Long Will My Internship or Practicum Last?

Many schools recognize the value of practical experience, whether through public health paid internships or unpaid volunteer placements. Each school sets the requirements for public health internships, including prerequisite courses and time commitments. The University of Arizona requires students to complete at least six credits as part of the undergraduate public health degree. Temple University requires students to complete two intensive field experiences during their final year. The first placement requires 200 hours of work, while the second expects 400 hours. The University of Maryland does not require an internship for undergraduate students, but graduate students must complete fieldwork.

Will I Get Paid for My Public Health Internship or Practicum?

While field experiences allow students to apply public health skills and may open the door to future employment, paid internships and practicums are limited. Practicums, with their focus on academics and research, are typically unpaid. Paid internships may provide a set allowance for the duration of the placement or pay students for hours worked.

Will I Get Academic Credit for My Internship or Practicum?

Most schools offer academic credit for graduate and undergraduate public health internships, even if the curriculum does not require them. However, students should carefully review the requirements for credit, because many schools expect completion of a set amount of work hours for each credit awarded. Most schools communicate with the host workplace, asking for reviews from supervisors working directly with the student. Students may also keep a record of tasks completed and reflections on their work to submit at the close of the academic term. Many schools insist students enroll in a course to earn the credit and often do not consider credit for work performed before signing up.

How Will My Public Health Internship or Practicum Help Me?

Public health internships and practicums allow students to apply theories and skills they learn in class to a professional setting, such as data analysis or healthcare marketing and promotion. Many students find their field experience provides their first glimpse into the work of their potential career and the opportunity to reevaluate career goals. These real-word experiences also develop soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, professional etiquette, and punctuality, which many employers seek in new hires. Students also gain valuable work experience and participate in projects that enhance their resume upon graduation. Final reports, oral presentations, and other work product may be added to a professional portfolio. Students gain career connections during their field placement that may serve as references.

Students seeking fieldwork opportunities, public health paid internships, or practicums should first consult with their adviser or internship coordinator. Many schools maintain a list of approved work sites. Competition for some internships is competitive, so students should apply well in advance of the term they plan to work in the field.

Public Health Internship Opportunities

  • Public Health Institute: This nonprofit organization offers undergraduate and graduate public health paid internships. Internships last six to 12 weeks and may require part-time or full-time work.
  • University of Miami: The Miller School of Medicine maintains a database of public health graduate internships available across the country. Internships may be paid or unpaid.
  • American Public Health Association: This organization offers internships in public health policy, government relations, disease prevention, communications, publications, and affiliate affairs.
  • Centers for Disease Control: Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the CDC offers onsite internships as well as opportunities with partnering institutions across the country. The agency provides short-term internships for students at every academic level as well as longer fellowships.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA offers field experiences in evaluating workplace safety, implementing new safety plans, and effective safety training programs.
  • Utah Public Health Careers: Subscribe to this free database receive weekly updates on internship programs, practicum proposals, and full-time employment opportunities. Follow them on Facebook for updates, relevant news, and volunteer opportunities.
  • University of Pittsburgh: The school's public health department provides resources for developing resumes, writing cover letters, and preparing for an interview.
  • University of Toledo: The University of Toledo offers a slideshow reviewing tips and advice for public health students seeking an internship and those currently placed at a site. It includes the importance of keeping records of work performed and assembling an internship portfolio.
  • Centers for Disease Control: The CDC's Learning Connections site includes links to free learning resources, articles on topics of interest, and information for continuing education.