How to Find a Public Health Practicum Site
Everyone needs to complete a practice experience, but finding a practicum site can be a challenge. Recently we sat down with Dr. Titilola Balogun to discuss best practices in finding a practicum site that fits your professional goals.
Begin with the end in mind
The number one piece of advice when thinking about your practicum placement is to think about what you want to do with your MPH. Looking for a practicum is very similar to searching for a job. Actually, it’s the exact same process – and in many cases, it’s easier to find a practicum than it is a job because many health departments and public health organizations are generally happy to have students willing to work in exchange for mentoring and a real-world experience.
Some opportunities are paid, but there is no guarantee of payment. In fact, the search for a practicum site is a good test run for actually looking for a public health job.
How to search online for a practicum experience
Be focused in your search. If you are looking for an advocacy-related practicum, for instance, search for jobs that do advocacy work. Do an actual search.
For example, search “advocacy, public health” in a job search engine. Within the job descriptions of the search results, look for the skills that are required for the positions. Those are the kinds of skills that you will want to acquire at your practicum site because those are the skills that you will need to land a job in advocacy.
Keep track of the skills required
Keep a running document of the skill sets that you identify as ones you will need for your ideal public health practicum experience or job placement.
If your interests lean toward more quantitative skills, and if you are someone who likes data, health departments are a good source for those types of jobs. Or if you were interested in epidemiology, you could search for ‘epidemiologist’ to find job openings in your area. Look for the skills required for the position, and you will almost always see skills related to proficiency with SAS or STATA or other quantitative skills. Those would be the kind of skills you would want to focus on for your practicum.
Approaching a site
As you identify your desired skill sets, if you find that an organization of interest does not have any internship opportunities posted, you can still reach out and say something along the lines of ‘As part of the requirements for my MPH, I need to complete a practicum. These are the skills I have and these are the skills I would like to acquire at your site. Do you have any openings for an intern?”
Align with your interests
Getting a practicum that aligns with your interests is important because your interest will drive your motivation to do excellent work. If you are new to public health, your classmates and teachers are your first professional public health network. Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off them and ask about potential opportunities. This helps with relationship building as well as career advancement.
Your practicum does count as public health experience and should be included in your resume. The unique skills you acquire during the experience can give you a better chance of standing out to an employer in a wide field of job applicants with public health degrees. Avoid simply looking for the most convenient opportunity you can find. Go the extra mile to seek out sites that do high-quality work.
When to look
It is never too early to start planning your practicum. The sooner you begin the better.
We recommend beginning your search no later than six months before you are scheduled to begin your practicum semester to avoid frustration. This gives you and the site time to review the requirements, clarify the expectations and complete all the paperwork. You need to secure a practicum location and turn in all completed and signed paperwork before you will be cleared to register for the course.
Some students are able to find a site that’s a great fit within a few weeks of searching, but for the vast majority of students finding a placement takes much longer. So, again, the sooner you start searching the better. Keep in mind that you need to plan your life, your job, take time off of your work – and all of that takes time.
Why do you need to find your own practicum site?
We get a lot of questions from students about why the program does not find practicum sites for students. First of all, we have students all over the US and abroad, therefore it is logistically not possible for us to establish academic-practice partnerships with organizations in every city in the U.S. as is the case with some schools. And then, of course, the choice of a practicum site should be driven by the student’s career goals and interests.
We do have a partnership with the City of Portland Department of Public Health here in Maine, but those opportunities are only feasible for students that are local.
The Graduate Programs in Public Health supports our students with the development of professional skills to help with their search. Our Assistant Director for Career Advising and Assistant Director for Research and Service are available to help with that aspect of finding a good practice experience site including creating strong resumes and cover letters, writing professional emails, and developing other professional skills.
What happens if you can’t find a practicum site?
If you are finding it too challenging to find a site, step back and reevaluate. Also, keep an open mind. Some people have found their public health calling by stepping out of their comfort zones and trying something new. If the specific skills you want to acquire do not match what is available, take a calculated risk and try something different.
Make sure you keep your practicum coordinator in the loop as you plan. A practicum is a requirement for the MPH degree in any accredited school or program so you have to keep searching till you find one.
The bottom line
In a nutshell, to find a good practicum placement, start as soon as possible. Know what you want to do, compile a list of skills you’ll need, network with public health professionals, make other connections through conferences and industry mixers, and use your UNE Online resources.
We are here to help
Taking advantage of available resources is key to a successful practicum search. Reach out to your Student Support Specialist or Practicum Coordinator. They are more than happy to walk along with you during every step of your practicum search.
If you are interested in more information about the Graduate Programs in Public Health please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at 1(855) 325-0895 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, if you’re ready to apply, fill out your online application at online.une.edu/gateway-portal-page.
More Public Health program information: http://go.une.edu/public-health/mph