Public health internships offer students an opportunity to explore their chosen career path and acquire practical experience that will help them excel post-graduation. Most master’s degree programs, including those focused on public health, require some sort of internship or practicum, but finding the perfect fit can be challenging. For one, there are a wide variety of general and specialized internships available through private companies, nonprofit organizations and even government agencies.
Every internship program offers a glimpse into different facets of the public health sector, though nearly all focus on real-world issues. This allows students to apply their undergraduate and graduate education in a hands-on environment and network with public health professionals at the top of their respective fields. But what can students learn from public health internships, and how can they locate opportunities that align with their professional goals and personal interests?
What types of public health internships are available?
Every public health internship is unique in terms of subject matter, daily responsibilities, program length and compensation. What students learn heavily depends on the organization they intern with and the specific projects they’re pulled into. For example, working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may allow students to study environmental health, infectious diseases, health care policymaking or community-based interventions. As such, it’s important for students to choose a program that matches their long-term career plans and fits into their schedule. When applying for public health internships, aspiring public health professionals should consider the following details:
Finding the right internship starts with a careful assessment of students’ personal and professional interests. Some internship programs are broad in scope, providing a more holistic view of how the public health field works at the local, state and federal levels. These types of programs are beneficial for students who are still undecided about their future occupations and want to explore different career paths.
Specialized internships, such as the CDC’s National Environmental Public Health Internship Program, offer students more in-depth work experiences in a specific area of study. When researching these opportunities, it’s important to carefully read the program details to ensure they align with students’ planned occupation. In addition to gaining practical experience, specialized internships can help students assemble key qualifications and references that will help them find employment. In fact, close to 72% of internship hosts offer jobs to their interns post-graduation, according to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
The work public health interns perform depends on the organizations they partner with and the particular program. Some employers offer desk jobs that involve data analysis, grant writing, health program management or policy crafting, while others focus on field work. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides numerous internship programs that involve on-site workplace evaluations and hands-on safety training.
In many cases, interns spend their time attending training and development seminars, shadowing with public health professionals or supporting seasonal projects. This is particularly true when interning with nonprofit organizations like the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross, as their programs tend to focus on health education and community outreach. Students should always prioritize internship opportunities that allow them to apply their skills and knowledge to goal-based projects that align with their public health concentration or ideal career path.
Another key factor in selecting a public health internship is the duration of the program, as some opportunities are more long term than others. Most internships last between 10 and 12 weeks, or for an entire semester. Government agencies like the CDC and OSHA also offer summer internships that provide students with more intensive work experiences.
Longer internships are often listed as “fellowships,” which can go as long as six months, depending on an applicant’s level of education and course schedule. Fellowships are often limited to graduate students or those with a proven work history in the public health field, though interested undergraduates may still be considered. When applying for internships or fellowships, students should consider their course load and personal commitments to ensure they can keep up with their studies during the program.
The true value of public health internships is the practical experience, professional contact and real-world knowledge students gain throughout their residence. However, most graduate students need to keep up with bills and other living expenses, making paid internships all the more competitive. While most programs do not offer fixed salaries or compensation packages, there are opportunities to make money while interning. For example, the CDC’s Summer Graduate Environmental Health Internship is a paid, nine-week program available to full-time students interested in environmental health issues.
Although unpaid internships may not provide direct compensation, some organizations do reimburse students for travel expenses. Many nonprofits and government agencies also offer financial assistance and scholarships to qualified interns, though the exact amount is hard to pinpoint.
Popular public health internships
With so many available internships, it can be hard to narrow down which ones align with your personal interests and professional goals. Of course, your location will have a major impact on your decision, as many programs are hosted at organizations’ main offices. To help you effectively weigh your options, consider the following public health internships and what they can teach you:
Public Health Student Intern Program (PHSIP)
Hosted by the Health Resources and Services Administration, this unpaid internship offers students an in-depth look at how public health practitioners effect real change at the local, state and federal levels. Interns complete a one-semester rotation within one of the agency’s bureaus or offices, which are located throughout the U.S. Through this internship opportunity, students can learn how the HRSA evaluates health programs and improves health care for people who are “geographically isolated, economically or medically vulnerable.” This includes hands-on experience with program analysis and evaluation methodologies used in real-world contexts.
APHA Environmental Health Internship
The American Public Health Association offers this unpaid internship for those interested in environmental health systems, water quality and security, environmental justice and health equity. The Environmental Health Internship is based in Washington, D.C., and provides students with practical experience in researching health issues and managing outreach campaigns. Interns are responsible for creating fact sheets, background reports and blog posts for the APHA website, making this program well-suited to future health educators and community health workers.
World Health Organization Internship Programme
For students interested in global health, the World Health Organization offers a wide array of local and international internships that vary in focus and duration. The program is open to both graduate and postgraduate students who want to contribute to the advancement of public health on the world stage, and lasts anywhere between six and 24 weeks depending on candidates’ availability. This internship is focused on exploring the systems and processes that enable international collaboration on key public health issues, including infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS, chronic illnesses and pollution.
Occupational Health Internship Program (OHIP)
This paid summer internship is offered through the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to occupational health and safety. Students are matched with specific projects based on their technical competencies and area of study, allowing them to gain hands-on experience with workplace hazard analysis and injury prevention. This program is especially useful for aspiring occupational health and safety specialists, as interns are responsible for researching job-related hazards, conducting worker interviews and attending union/worker organization meetings.
CDC Pathways Program for Students and Recent Graduates
As one of the leading public health agencies in the country, the CDC offers a diverse array of internship opportunities for students with different concentrations, including biostatistics, health policy, epidemiology and community health. From short-term internships to summer programs, students have access to numerous temporary work assignments that involve community outreach, medical research and health education. Many of the CDC’s openings come with competitive salaries and offer a pathway to full-time employment once students have graduated from their bachelor’s or master’s programs.
How an MPH from the University of Nevada, Reno can support a public health career
The online Master of Public Health program at the University of Nevada, Reno is designed to help students explore their career possibilities in a variety of professional settings. Students benefit from a diverse curriculum that offers hands-on training in key areas of the public health field, including biostatistics, policy analysis, program development, epidemiology and environmental health.
As part of this 45-credit MPH program, students are expected to complete a practicum or internship that aligns with their specialization, allowing them to gain practical experience while working toward a degree. All courses are taught by world-class faculty who have worked in their respective fields and contributed to the advancement of public health across the globe. This helps ensure students can develop the real-world knowledge, technical skills and expertise they need to help advance their careers post-graduation.