How to Choose an MPH Practicum Site

By: Travis Hedlund, MPH

Creighton’s online Master of Public Health program provides students all over the world the opportunity to learn and apply valuable skills needed to contribute to the health of society. It does so while being fairly easy to tailor to busy work schedules, allowing anyone from recent graduates to full-time professionals the ability to advance their knowledge. But one of the final portions of the MPH program is the Practicum Experience which gives students a hands-on opportunity to utilize and further develop the skills they learned during the previous two years of instruction. When choosing a practicum experience, students should look at several factors that will ultimately allow them to pick a site that blends practicality with personal preference.

Creighton’s MPH practicum requires students to complete a total of 80 contact hours over the course of 8 weeks, with the final week also requiring the student to submit a site evaluation and final reflection paper. Consider these time constraints carefully when looking at practicum sites. Can you accomplish your learning goals in 80 hours and/or 8 weeks? A site that you can only work at on weekends, or a practicum proposal that requires a long time period to achieve measurable results probably won’t work within the time limits of the course. Choosing a site that can fit your own schedule is also an important factor to consider now rather than later. Much of the allure of an online program is that the flexibility permits many students to work full-time jobs. Most practicum sites won’t have nearly as flexible schedules, so picking a site that allows you to work later in the day or on weekends might be necessary, depending on your own needs. Hammering out these details early on in your search can save you a lot of trouble down the road.

The second half of the equation is choosing a site that interests you. Depending on where you live, there can be hundreds of different practicum sites for you to choose from, and with the skills  you have learned from your MPH courses, you could probably succeed at many of them. But a practicum isn’t just about picking a site that fits your schedule, or one that you think will be easy. This is a chance to work on an issue that truly excites you, maybe an issue you have always wanted to explore. Balancing your interests with your time constraints may make it difficult to choose your dream practicum, but at the very least, you should choose to work on an issue that you won’t be bored with. After all, you will be spending 80 unpaid hours working at this site, and you don’t want to spend them being miserable.

Here are a few tips that will help you choose a site:

Start early

With school, work, and life, your practicum start date creeps up faster than you think. Fully exploring your options takes time, and the earlier you start looking, the better. Some sites may need a bit of time to consider and approve your learning contract. So research some sites that interest you, and contact them as soon as you can.

Ask for advice

Stuck on where to start? Some great resources are the people surrounding you. Co-workers, bosses, past professors, and friends. Anyone who knows you well may be able to give you some ideas about what work sites to look into, or what issues to explore. Ask them for any related experiences they’ve had, and they may come up with something you haven’t thought of yet.

Look back at your own experiences

Think about the different organizations you’ve worked for or been a part of. Maybe a site you volunteered at, or even a course you took in college about an issue that really interested you.

By balancing your time and your interests, you should be able to choose a site that allows you to utilize skills that can benefit you in any number of careers, and that fulfills the ultimate goal of growing as a public health professional.