How Much Do Internships Help Improve Public Health Competencies?

Do internships help Master of Public Health students improve their competencies–foundational skill sets–required by the Council on Education for Public Health accrediting body?

Yes. That might seem like a “no-brainer,” admits first author Dylan Steigerwald, then a Master of Public Health student at Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice, but no one had studied how much or in what ways internships directly affect those competencies.

Dylan Stiegerwald

“Improving public health competencies through required practice experience,” published in the July 2016 issue of Public Health, evaluated self-reported data from students at Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice who were completing the required 320-hour internship as part of the Master of Public Health programs in spring of 2015.

The results found the students felt nearly 50% more accomplished in all competencies. Data from future cohorts will be analyzed as well to confirm these results.

The rates of improvement varied between the nine “core competencies” of the M.P.H. and the “concentration competencies,” which evaluate separate competencies for each public health concentration: behavioral science and health education, biosecurity and disaster preparedness, biostatistics, environmental and occupational health, epidemiology, global health, and maternal and child health.

Students reported improvement in 65% of their core competencies, and in 61% of their individual concentration competencies. These rates of improvement were significantly higher when compared to the rates of improvement for non-core, non-concentration competencies. This finding is important because it provides evidence that students are completing worthwhile practice experiences which align with their own concentrations and public health interests.

Anecdotally, Steigerwald, who is now working as an epidemiologist at the Jefferson County Department of Health, says he “definitely” felt increased proficiency in the epidemiology and biostatistics competencies following his internship at Washington University. While studying construction workers’ safety, he worked closely with a biostatistician and learned to use different statistical software including the programming language ‘R.’

Steigerwald worked with internship coordinator Catherine Nolan, M.P.H.; Travis Loux, Ph.D., Department of Biostatistics; Carole R. Baskin, D.V.M, MSc, Institute of Biosecurity, Director of Master of Public Health Programs; and Darcy Scharff, Ph.D, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs; all colleagues at Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice.

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CPHSJ Communications
Published: September 7, 2016