How Much Hands-On Practical Work Will I Do While Getting My Master’s in Public Health?

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If you’ve decided to pursue a career in public health, then you’ve probably already figured out a few things. You’re likely passionate about your own health and the population as a whole. You’ve probably realized that the only constant in the field of public health is change; change to policy, change to insurance, change to recommendations, but always, in everything, change. And you’ve probably got a bachelor’s degree in hand, an education that further cemented for you that you are passionate about public health and this is an industry that you want to be a leader in.

There’s a good chance you are also considering getting your masters in public health (MPH) and you are still trying to decide which way to go. Should you find the cheapest MPH program and just get it done? Should you look into online MPH programs so you can start working full-time now? Are there hands-on experiences in MPH programs and should you select your school based on those options?

These are good smart questions to be asking yourself. Finances, work/education balance, internships and externships, all of these factors are going to be crucial to your success both in determining job fit, gaining employment, and finding work that fulfills you and your passions. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Educational Options for MPH Programs

Let’s briefly run through the different ways you can achieve your MPH. There are “brick and mortar” traditional MPH options and online MPH options.

Online MPH Programs

Though in the past, the cheapest MPH program may have been an online one, that is no longer true. Online MPH programs are every bit as commendable, excellent, (and potentially costly) as the traditional classroom experience and they are available from a variety of excellent institutions. In 2019, listed their top 20 online MPH programs. You can find that list here. Tuition for these programs ranges from $10,213 – $59,160, while length of the programs ranges from 11 months – 3 years.

Traditional MPH Programs

A traditional MPH program refers to those that occur at a brick and mortar campus – in a true classroom. Similarly to the online MPH programs on the list referenced above, both tuition costs and program length varies. With a traditional program, it is important to consider both in-state and out-of-state tuition costs, as well as private education versus public education. Take a look at this ranking of MPH programs. Pay attention to the point system they used for rankings, especially if program cost is important to you; tuition costs played a significant role in their ranking process.

As with most educational choices, accreditation is important. Regardless of where you want your learning to occur, ensure that the Council on Education in Public Health accredits the program.

Additional MPH Program Considerations

For most, choosing how to achieve your MPH is most often related to some of the factors discussed above, like cost, location, length of program, or flexibility. However, you may be a student more interested in the practical work, internship and/or externship different MPH programs offer.

MPH Practicum Experiences

An accredited MPH program is always going to include a practical experience at the end of the curriculum (both traditional and online programs). Programs typically include a capstone as well. These final portions of the program give students hands-on experience and learning; this is most often the time and space that will prepare a student the most for their transition to being a positively contributing member of the workforce.

Here is how the University of Washington, one of the top-ranked MPH programs, speaks about their experiential learning opportunities:

“Internship, capstone, practicum, volunteer, and other field-based experiences provide students with opportunities to integrate and apply classroom learning in a public health work environment. The range of experiences vary in focus and depth of engagement to align with student and partner needs. The School partners with today’s public health leaders to help prepare the next generation. These partnerships are vital for our mission of education, research and service and empower students to transform communities – locally, nationally, and globally.”

MPH practicum experiences are meant to ensure that graduate students have the skills needed to shape policy, change public behaviors, and collaboratively contribute to creating solutions for existing health problems. Typically, these experiences occur with non-profit organizations, community advocacy groups, government health programs or public health departments.

Many programs also offer students the chance to participate in a capstone research experience. Students get the opportunity to apply their new knowledge to the full research process, which may include grant work, ethics training, research team collaboration, presentation to professional boards or groups, and publication.

Practicum and capstone experiences differ across programs, so you must look into this before you make your MPH program choice. Do you want a few hours of work or an immersive, full-time experience? Do you need to be able to make your own schedule because of an existing job? Do you want to choose your setting? MPH student Laurie Musgrave has some excellent advice on choosing a practicum and capstone experience; read her thoughts here.

How Long Will a Practicum Be?

It is difficult to say exactly how many hours MPH students will spend doing hands-on learning. A quick perusal of different top MPH practicums shows that a minimum of 100 hours is required, with some programs requiring up to 240 hours of work. This information is always available within each institution’s online program content and is especially important to consider if you have chosen to work while you are going to school.

Making Your Choice

Clearly, the practicum experience is thought to be one of the most, if not the most, valuable portion of an MPH program. The ability to integrate and utilize what you’ve learned will prove fundamental in your success moving from a student to a professional. Though every student needs to appropriately consider their finances and their time when making an educational choice, do not overlook the offered practicum experience when you choose your MPH program.

Laura Mansfield

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | Sacred Heart University

Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College

Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)

October 2019

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