March 31, 2023

What Should I Look for in a Public Health Internship?


A person studying to earn their bachelor’s or master’s degree in public health may wonder, “What should I look for in a public health internship?” An internship is typically an unpaid experience that entails a specific activity or project that the student will work on for the mentor or employer. Knowing what to look or in a public health internship could help a person’s chances of enjoying the experience, learning from it and making important connections within the world of public health.

Related resource: Top 25 Online MPH Programs (Master’s in Public Health)

Experience That Coordinates With Area of Specialty

Ideally, a student should find an internship that coordinates with their area of specialty within public health. Most public health degrees include an area of specialty, such as epidemiology, biostatistics, health administration, environmental health or health behavior, and health promotion. A person whose focus is epidemiology may seek an internship at their local or state health department. Someone who is interested in health administration might look for an internship at a large teaching hospital or research facility. A person interested in environmental health should look at the local health department or state or federal branch of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dedicated Mentor Within the Organization

When searching for a public health internship, the student should ask whether or not they will have a dedicated mentor within the organization. The mentor should be available for regular meetings with the student. Having a mentor makes it easier for the student to get a feel for the organization and to feel comfortable in the environment. The mentor would monitor or supervise the student’s work, check-in on their progress, sign off on their internship hours, coordinate meetings with other public health professionals within the organization and generally be responsible for coordinating the project that the student engages in during the internship.

Project With a Specific Goal or Endpoint

An internship should include a specific goal or project with an endpoint. For example, a person earning a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in biostatistics or epidemiology might have a project of analyzing a set of state survey data, presenting it and creating a written report about it. A person earning a specialty in health behavior and health promotion might have a project goal of interviewing 20 people about their health behaviors related to exercise. A defined project goal allows the student and mentor to monitor progress. The project can be quantified, and satisfaction comes from completing it.

Credit for the Experience

According to, a student should ensure that their internship will meet their college’s or university’s requirement for field experience. Most public health programs require a practicum or internship as a part of the graduation completion. This could be verified with the student’s academic advisor or the administration of the public health program. The internship should include the required number of hours that the student needs in order to complete the college’s or university’s field experience credit.

A public health internship helps a student make important contacts in the profession. The internship could even lead to a job offer if the student does well and is a good fit at the organization. Knowing the answer to, “What should I look for in a public health internship?” helps a student have a rewarding experience.