Sociomedical Sciences Practicum

As a Sociomedical Sciences (SMS) MPH student in the two-year certificate or a dual degree program, you must devote a minimum of 280 hours to your practicum. Acclerated students complete a minimum of 140 hours.

Your practicum provides the opportunity to apply the concepts and methods of social science and public health learned in the classroom to actual public health problems. The setting and content of your practicum can be tailored to fit your interests, educational needs, and professional objectives, provided they are consistent with the academic goals and objectives of the School and the SMS department.

To ensure a consistent experience, you will work under the guidance of a Practicum Preceptor, an advisor responsible for orienting, supervising, and evaluating your work.

General Objectives

The practicum provides an opportunity to gain professional experience in your specialized area of training while:

  • Applying classroom knowledge in a real-world setting

  • Carrying out a project useful to an organization or group

  • Developing and refining professional public health skills

  • Developing insight into personal skills and attributes

  • Attending meetings and seminars to learn about the work of other relevant organizational/project personnel

  • Exploring opportunities for thesis topics based upon the needs of the organization or project and your individual interests (Note: You are encouraged, but not required, to use your practicum as the basis of your thesis)

  • Obtaining job references from public health professionals who can speak to the your abilities in an applied context

  • Obtaining a position with the organization or group when relevant openings are available upon graduation

SMS Competencies

The practicum experience should meet one or more of the following competencies:

  • Systems Thinking: Recognizes system level properties and understands the relationships among individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and environments.

  • Relationship Building: Establishes good working relationships grounded on acceptance, cooperation, and respect.

  • Spatial Awareness: Understands and incorporates in analyses the role of social and physical spaces on the distribution of illness and social inequalities.

  • Urban Planning Skills: Incorporates theoretical and practical concepts related to urban planning into the analysis of public health issues.

  • Research Ethics: Understands and enforces laws, rules, and regulations related to the ethical conduct of research

  • Research Design and Planning: Develops and plans the steps to carry out a research study.

  • Research Implementation Skills: Identifies, collects, and organizes data for analysis.

  • Program Analysis: Deconstructs an existing health promotion/disease prevention program and makes formal recommendations for improvement.

  • Evaluation: Conducts an evaluability assessment of an existing health promotion/disease prevention program and makes formal recommendations for improvement.

  • Community and Organizational Analysis: Analyzes an existing community or inter‐ organizational coalition and makes formal recommendations for improvement

  • Media Campaign Analysis: Designs a local media campaign and an evaluation plan in collaboration with a community‐based organization.

  • Policy Analysis: Uses primary and secondary sources to understand the history, context, implementation and impact of a policy

Preparing for the Practicum

Most full-time MPH Certificate students will complete the practicum in the summer between their first and second year of study. The practicum may be carried out in the second year over a semester or over a full calendar year (semesters 3 and/or 4), depending on your schedule and the needs of your sponsoring organization. There is some flexibilty on when students will complete the practicum; SMS recommendeds that you complete all or a large portion of your practicum prior to beginning work on your thesis in the third semester.

Although it is helpful to have specific interests already in mind, the practicum affords you a great opportunity to explore areas of potential interest. You are encouraged to use this time to learn more about areas you may be considering for a career.

Consider the following questions when planning for your practicum:

  • How geographically mobile are you? Do you want to do a domestic or an international practicum? Does your practicum have to be in New York City?

  • What do you envision yourelf doing after graduation?

  • Do you want to use your practicum as a possible future job placement? If so, in what job or agency do you envision yourself working after graduation?

  • What skills would you like to practice in your practicum? What would you like to learn?

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

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

  • How important are financial considerations? Does your practicum have to be paid?

  • Do you want to do your thesis as an extension of your practicum?

Finding a Practicum

The following offices and resources can help you explore practicum options:

  • The Office of Careers and Practice (OCP) distributes announcements regarding featured internship opportunities every Friday during the academic year via listserv and has many helpful resources

  • Hard copies of previous practicum summary reports are available on the fifth floor of the Rosenfield Building underneath the departmental mailboxes

  • Email announcements of practicum opportunities are occassionally sent to the student listserv

  • Academic advisors can sometimes provide recommendations or referrals. You should discuss the timing and general goals for your practicum with your advisors during your first semester.

Roles and Responsibilities

The agency, program, project, or individual that agrees to accept a student for a practicum experience also assumes an educational role. Someone at the agency will be identified as your Practicum Preceptor, who agrees to help arrange your experience and define activities that meet your objectives and those of the agency and project. The roles and responsibilities for students and preceptors are:

Preceptor

  • Define the scope of the practicum

  • Determine the need for any special training or certifications (HIPAA, IRB)

  • Develop a schedule with the student

  • Schedule regular meetings to chart development and progress

  • Include the student in meetings or seminars related to the practicum area

  • Clarify to whom student should report if preceptor is not available

  • Review and sign the Practicum Summary Report at the end of the practicum

Student

  • Ask for background reading or other information prior to your meeting with preceptor

  • Discuss the scope of your practicum

  • Clarify with the preceptor whether your work will be independent or in collaboration with others

  • Clarify to whom you should report if preceptor is not available

  • Discuss how your time should be allocated and hours recorded

  • Comply with your time commitments whether or not preceptor is on site

  • Discuss your work schedule with preceptor on a regular basis

  • Document your involvement in the project (i.e. project activities, data collection, meeting minutes) in a data/record notebook if applicable

  • Complete any special training as required

The Scope of Work

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 advisor and the departmental practicum director/ coordinator before the start of the practicum. Your practicum stipend will be disbursed only after the approval of your SOW. The Office of Field Practice has developed an online system to make the submission process quick and easy -- https://www.sac-cu.org/MSPH/PracTrac/Home.aspx

Completing Your Practicum

Ensure that your degree requirements are fulfilled by completing the SMS Practicum Summary Report at the conclusion of your practicum. When applicable—and with the authorization of the Preceptor—you should submit a sample of any products you helped develop (i.e. survey instrument, evaluation plan, policy brief, curriculum) as a supplement to your Summary Report. Summary Reports are made available to future students as examples of practicum projects.

Contacts

SMS Practicum Director: ref5 [at] columbia.edu (Professor Robert Fullilove)
SMS Academic Programs: ac995 [at] columbia.edu (Andrea Constancio)