Public health professionals navigate numerous clinical and administrative environments, from community health centers, hospitals, and home offices to difficult-to-access rural outposts and other nontraditional settings. However, few learn how to navigate these sometimes challenging domains from classroom education alone. Real-world experience is essential to success in public health. But where can aspiring professionals in the field take part in the kinds of hands-on encounters that will prepare them for practice?
The online Master of Public Health program at Regis College is a viable option. Here, students are required to participate in a field placement program wherein they can apply knowledge gained in the classroom while working in a public health organization. These experiences can be immensely beneficial to professional development and prepare students for demanding field work after graduation.
Understanding the importance of field placement
Public health field work can unfold in challenging conditions. Even teams with access to cutting-edge technology encounter difficulties. For example, those taking part in epidemiological studies in underserved communities sometimes have to revert to in-person interview strategies, as modern methods centered on advanced field technology such as the survey online portal tend to generate results biased toward educated individuals. Of course, epidemiologists operating in more stable settings also encounter difficulties such as patient resistance.
Public health personnel who are not in field research roles often encounter roadblocks as well, including administrative issues stemming from funding deficiencies. Even leading entities such as the World Health Organization struggle with these problems, Reuters reported. WHO embarked on an internal transformation in 2016 to address operational dysfunction that had made it difficult for the public health professionals there to respond to crises and conduct research.
In short, while many of the groups that populate the public health space run effectively, there are occasional hiccups. Field assignments allow public health students to experience some of the challenges that come with working in the space and to cultivate methods for coping with these larger issues. Of course, this is not the only benefit that comes with workplace experience.
Field placements give public health students the opportunity to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it in the real world. This augments the learning process and can even bolster educational achievement, as students return to their coursework with practical insights that ease knowledge absorption and promote true conceptual understanding.
In addition to enriching the learning process, field assignments lay the groundwork for success in the job market following graduation. Why? Because public health organizations are more likely to hire recent graduates who have real experience to go with their degrees.
Together, these benefits make field placements essential to success in public health. Classroom training alone cannot completely prepare rising professionals in the sector for the realities of modern field work, nor does it satisfy WHO and other public health groups that look for hires with demonstrable experience outside of digital and physical lecture halls.
So, where can potential contributors and leaders in the industry go to get this real-world knowledge? Graduate degree tracks are among the best options, as taking on these preliminary roles in the context of a formalized master’s degree program often proves to be the optimal approach.
Gaining real-world experience with Regis College
Students enrolled in the online MPH program at Regis College are required to complete hands-on professional practicums spanning 270 hours. Organized via the school’s Center for Internships and Career Development, these experiences help prepare aspiring public health professionals for life after graduation.
Individuals pursuing an online MPH program at Regis College are responsible for obtaining their own placements, which unfold in numerous fields and subspecialties, including:
- Coalition building
- Community mobilization
- Health communication
- Public health administration
Taking advantage of a rich academic experience
Prior to embarking on the 270-hour field placement experience, students enrolled in the online MPH program navigate a robust graduate curriculum designed prepare them for such real-world work. This coursework centers on six foundational courses:
- Biostatistics: Here, aspiring public health professionals engage with essential public health data collection and analysis methodologies, and learn how these insights are used to develop effective overarching medical policies.
- Health Ethics and Law: Health care is heavily regulated and subject to industry-specific ethical standards that carry serious consequences if broken. Students assess these various concepts and how they are applied functionally.
- Contemporary Issues in Environmental Health: This topic is perhaps more important than ever before. In this course, students tackle this weighty topic and dissect some of the more pressing problems associated with this unique branch of public health.
- Epidemiologic Methods: Like biostatistics, epidemiology, or the study of disease, is a pillar of the public health discipline. Students taking this course unpack key methods for studying the spread of disease and discuss how such research impacts the world at large.
- Concepts in Health Administration: A good number of public health professionals end up taking health administration posts wherein they manage care delivery at specific medical facilities or organizations. This course delves into the specific operational and theoretical concepts that underlie this work.
- Social and Behavioral Sciences: Comprehending human behavior is key to studying and addressing public health problems, especially those that are the result of unhealthy habits. Here, students leverage social and behavioral science concepts to develop an understanding of patients.
In addition to these foundational courses, students enrolled in the online MPH program at Regis College must embark on at least six concentration courses building toward either Epidemiology or Health Policy and Management expertise.
During the former concentration, public health students explore essential topics such as Observational and Interventional Study Design, Data Management and Analysis, and Advanced Analysis of Epidemiologic Studies. Armed with this knowledge, students can pursue careers in epidemiology, some of which come with salaries of almost $70,000 per year, according to research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who pursue the Health Policy and Management concentration take courses addressing key subspecialty concerns such as Health Policy Analysis, Health Policy, Politics and Perspectives, and the Economics of Health Care. Again, students can use the insights gained here to cultivate fulfilling careers.
However, those who want to make the most significant impact in the public health arena must sharpen skills and knowledge earned in class out in the real world. Public health field work continues to grow in complexity, making professional placements key to post-graduation success.