Sociomedical Sciences Practicum

As a Sociomedical Sciences (SMS) MPH student, you must devote a minimum of 280 hours to your practicum. If you are already working full-time in public health in an area related to your program track, this requirement is decreased to 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.

SMS Practicum Competencies

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

  • Gaining confidence, competence, and satisfaction in completing projects

  • Developing insight into personal skills and attributes

  • Learning additional skills

  • Meeting regularly with a qualified Practicum Preceptor who can guide your experience in a specific area of interest and serve as a role model and/or mentor

  • 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 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

Preparing for the Practicum

Most full-time MPH students will complete their practicum in the summer between their first and second year of study. However, other arrangements are acceptable. Your practicum may be carried out over a semester during the academic year or over a full calendar year, depending on your schedule and the needs of your sponsoring organization. Although the practicum can be completed at anytime during the two-year program, 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 Career Services distributes announcements regarding featured internship opportunities every Friday during the academic year via listserv

  • The Office of Field Practice 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

Completing Your Practicum

Ensure that your degree requirements are fulfilled by completing a Practicum Summary Report Form—signed by your preceptor and submitted to your academic coordinator—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.

Forms and Contacts

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