Population and Family Health Practicum

As a Population & Family Health student, you are required to complete a field placement—or practicum—based on your professional interests. All students must devote a minimum of 140 hours (8-12 weeks) in a public health setting.

The practicum should provide the opportunity to apply the concepts and methods of social science and public health learned in the classroom to actual public health problems. During the practicum, a student works under the guidance of a supervisor who agrees to orient, supervise, and evaluate the work of the student.

The settings of student practica vary by program and certificate. The acceptable content of a practicum is flexible to meet a diverse range of student interests, educational needs, professional objectives, and career goals. However, in all cases, the practicum experience must be consistent with the academic goals and objectives of the Mailman School and the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health.

Most students begin the planning process for their placement at the beginning of their second semester and complete their practicum during the summer between their first and second years of study. Completion of an approved practicum experience is a graduation requirement. 

To guide your experience, you will develop a scope of work in collaboration with the practicum site supervisor and approved by the department. You must produce the deliverables specified by your scope of work by the end of the project period.

The department has established practicum sites in the Dominican Republic, France, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, as well as locations throughout New York City. Forced Migration and Global Health Track students have pursued their practicum at various sites abroad.

View examples of past practicum experiences here.

General Objectives

The practicum provides an opportunity to apply material learned in class and to develop professionalism. The practicum will allow the student to:

  • Synthesize and integrate your area of substantive expertise with competencies in program design, implementation, management, and evaluation; conduct research data collection, analysis, and reporting; and engage in policy analysis and advocacy;

  • Apply your learning to distinct, coherent practicum projects focusing on the health of the population in your area of study;

  • Provide host sites with valuable materials, services, analyses, and/or research that relates directly to the ongoing activities and mission of your site, and that meets the defined health care needs of your site’s surrounding  community.

Prior to the Practicum

Most full‐time MPH students will complete their practicum in the summer between years 1 and 2. However, other arrangements are acceptable: a practicum may be carried out over a semester during the academic year or over a full calendar year, depending on the student’s schedule and the needs of the sponsoring organization.

Many factors influence a student's final practicum selection. Although it is helpful to have specific interests already in mind, the practicum also affords a great opportunity to explore areas of potential interest. Some students use this time to learn more about areas they may be considering for a career.

As students are balancing their areas of interest, family commitments, and geographic and financial constraints, it may be helpful to consider some of the following:

  • How geographically mobile am I? Do I want to do a domestic or an international practicum?

  • Must my practicum be in NYC?

  • What do I envision myself doing after graduation?

  • Do I want to use my practicum as a possible future job placement and, if so, in what job or agency do I envision myself working after graduation?

  • What skills would I like to practice in my practicum? What would I like to learn?

  • Do I have career goals that include further academic pursuits, such as obtaining a PhD or other advanced degree?

  • Do I want to do a practicum that offers the possibility of a publication or presentation at a scientific session?

  • How important are financial considerations, such as whether my practicum must be paid?

  • Do I want to do my capstone as an extension of my practicum?

Finding a Practicum Placement

There are many ways to find a practicum placement. Students may contact a faculty member or an organization with which they would like to work. Students can search Mailman CareerLink the Career Services search engine, for paid and unpaid internships and should also review the Friday Career Services Announcements for featured internship opportunities.

Students can also get ideas for potential practica by reading previous students’ practicum title and organization, which Chelsea Kolff provides to first-year students each spring. Frequently, email announcements of available practica are sent to the student listserv.

Field Practice

Field Practice, in the Office of Careers and Practice (OCP), provides an array of resources to support and promote student participation in public health field practice, including the administration of various School-wide components of the required practicum within the MPH curriculum. OCP works with all academic departments and programs and develops inter-disciplinary practice sites available to students across the School.

The Field Practice Team has created multiple tools and assignments to assist in this submission process, including “How To” guides for students, faculty and practicum administrators. All students will have access to the CourseWorks website, beginning spring semester of their first year. There are several steps and assignments students must take to i) submitting the Scope of Work and ii) receive the stipend.

It is important to note the completed SOW must be approved before students may begin the practicum.

i) Practicum Scope of Work Form

The practicum scope of work (SOW) form is an important tool for planning your practicum and meeting the School’s requirements for engaging in a structured and approved practicum process. It is mandatory for all students to develop a practicum SOW in collaboration with the practicum organization, and to get the completed SOW approved by their faculty adviser and the departmental associate director before the start of the practicum. Your practicum stipend will be disbursed only after the approval of your SOW. OFP has developed an online system to make the submission process quick and easy.

Once the practicum agency and project have been identified and agreed upon, it is the student’s responsibility to submit the SOW via the online SOW Database. The objectives and activities of the practicum should reflect as many of the core competencies of PopFam as possible. These objectives should be initially outlined in the form by the student with input from the practicum preceptor.

4 Steps to Complete the Scope of Work form:

  • Step 1: Student Completely Answers all Questions in the Form

  • Step 2: IRB Review

  • Step 3: Faculty Advisor Approval

  • Step 4: Final Review by Associate Director for Department Approval

As stated above, online SOW approval by both faculty advisor and associate director is required before students begin their practicum.

ii) Practicum Funding/Stipends

Field Practice administers a small stipends program. The program provides students who complete their initial requirements on time with a small sum to partially support their expenses during the practicum. The initial requirements are in the Assignments section of the CourseWorks page. Field Practice begins the processing of stipends starting in mid-April, based on approved SOW and Compliance with Safety and Security as needed.

The entire process from the time of departmental approval of your SOW (not submission of the SOW) to receipt of funds in your account averages one month.

Students are responsible for covering the full cost of their practicum and personal expenses. Some agencies offer paid practicum opportunities. For Mailman students, a paid practicum is acceptable but not required.

During the Practicum

Once a student begins the practicum, the supervisor who coordinates and supervises the student’s work is responsible for seeing that the specific objectives and activities agreed upon in the practicum agreement are being carried out according to schedule. The preceptor orients the student to the agency and project and meets with the student on a regular basis to monitor the student’s progress. During the practicum, the student is responsible for performing according to the practicum agreement and for fulfilling the usual responsibilities of punctuality, accountability, and appropriate deportment and initiative expected of all public health professionals. If there are any problems or concerns the associate director is available to meet with the student and/or the student’s supervisor. If for any reason the student or the supervisor is unable to fulfill his or her responsibilities according to the practicum agreement, plans and activities for the practicum may be changed or modified with the approval of the advisor and the practicum preceptor.

Following the Practicum

After completion of the practicum, all Mailman students are required to file for completion and complete a brief evaluation of the practicum experience, both of which are the final step in the SOW online database.

In addition, all PopFam students must present on their practicum experience, including data, preliminary conclusions, etc. For most PopFam students, this takes the form of the Practicum Poster Presentation, held each fall. For PHHA students, this is done through the Forced Migration Seminar, in which students present a PowerPoint of their practicum and findings. Global Health Students hold a practicum poster presentation of their own each spring upon returning from their 6-month practicum. Presentation at a student’s respective event is mandatory; dates for the event are circulated several months in advance to avoid any scheduling conflicts.


aj2168 [at] cumc.columbia.edu (Ana Jimenez-Bautista): Director of Field Practice

Dr. Linda Cushman: Associate Dean for Field Practice

cl689 [at] cumc.columbia.edu (Dr. Cassie Landers): Faculty Liaison

cak2190 [at] cumc.columbia.edu (Chelsea Kolff): Academic Coordinator

msph-ofp [at] columbia.eduOffice of Field Practice