Features Public Health Students

Learning by doing

MPH students apply knowledge and fine-tune their skills through internships

four people sit at desk, writing on notepads, no faces shown

By Kathryn Stroppel

For centuries, people have learned through doing. It is such a key part of learning that all accredited Master of Public Health programs across the nation include an Applied Practice Experience (APE) in the curriculum.  

The APE gives students a hands-on opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world work settings and to demonstrate mastery of MPH learning competencies. It’s a chance to learn by doing, while building professional networks and a public health portfolio.   

At Oregon State University, the APE is a 200-hour internship experience completed with a public health organization over one or two 10-week terms. For online MPH students, the internship can be completed in person, remotely, or as a combination. It should be project-based and include the opportunity to develop at least two products that demonstrate at least five MPH competencies.   

“The process allows plenty of time to practice various skills the student hopes to improve, and it helps them build networks and solidify career interests,” says MPH internship coordinator Tonya Johnson. “It includes challenges and successes, growth and development.”  

The possibilities for internships and types of products are diverse, including conducting a community needs assessment, data analysis or program evaluation; writing a program plan, social media campaign or policy brief; or developing a stakeholder engagement plan, data visualization or evidence-based health education materials. It’s always best when internships meet student interests and career goals. 

“There are so many ways to be engaged,” Tonya says. “Perhaps it’s assessing the feasibility of implementing a needle exchange program in a rural Oregon community, or analyzing and reporting data on the association between peripartum antibiotic use and postpartum depression. 

“Maybe it’s conducting and analyzing key informant interviews to understand barriers to accessing health care among migrant farm workers, or designing and piloting a health education campaign on suicide prevention. It could be developing an outbreak report on COVID-19, or engaging stakeholders in community health improvement planning efforts.” 

If you’re a student who needs an MPH internship, here are some great ways to get started:  

  • Identify your interests.  
  • Talk with the MPH Internship Coordinator – she will help you brainstorm ideas and connections and make sure that criteria are met. 
  • Think about who you know who could connect you to those interests. 
  • Consider colleagues, family, friends and groups. 
  • Get your resume and cover letter ready. 
  • Reach out to contacts, conduct informational interviews and ask about possible internships. 
  • Apply for internship postings of interest. 
  • Interview, follow-up and repeat if necessary.  

By following these steps, you’re bound to find an internship of interest. Please reach out and stay connected with the MPH Internship Coordinator and visit the H 510 website for more information. 

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Aristotle