Frequently Asked Questions

Student Interns Impact Tracking Programs

Whether you are just starting out in creating a student internship program or looking to improve or expand an existing one, the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) below can help you identify resources and provide guidance.

What types of internships are there and how does one receive/recruit interns?

Student Intern collecting water sampleInterns are typically completing capstones or practicums for graduate school requirements or gaining experience for their own professional development. A capstone culminates in a project or research paper, while a practicum is meant to provide practical experience in public health. Some graduate schools require both types of internships and many combine components from both programs. In either case, these interns usually have specific requirements that need to be completed. Alternatively, some interns pursue internships to further their own professional development outside of graduate school. These interns may be more flexible as they have no external requirements. 

Since internships are frequently a requirement for graduate school programs, students may contact host sites inquiring about available opportunities. Alternatively, health departments can contact schools of public health to publicize the opening(s). Interns can also be placed through the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) or Area Health Education Centers (AHEC). Departments should contact representatives from these organizations (local chapters if possible) to find out more information. The National Environmental Public Health Internship Program (NEPHIP), administered through NEHA, matches students and health departments using funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health departments must apply to be host sites through the program. Additionally, interns can be hired through Limited Term Employment (LTE) programs. Some more developed programs send out formal applications and conduct interviews to ensure that the intern is a good fit in the department. The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and several other organizations run the Applied Epidemiology Fellowship. The CDC runs a program called the Public Health Associate Program. Both opportunities fund recent graduates to work at local or state health departments or nonprofit organizations for two years, the former with a focus on epidemiology. These programs allow for fellows to engage in long term projects and more fully integrate into the program staff. Departments can apply to be host sites to obtain fellows.

What kinds of requirements do interns typically have?

Interns completing a practicum or capstone through graduate school usually have requirements they need to fulfill. Requirements can include final reports, presentations, and evaluations, among other things. Staff often need to fill out periodical performance reviews or a final evaluation at the end of the internship. Take the time to review your intern’s school requirements to ensure that you are able to meet them.

What kinds of programs use student interns?

There is a vast array of programs that utilize student interns, including environmental health tracking, communication, epidemiology, health education, and birth defects. The most successful programs tend to take an individual intern’s skills and interests into account, as well as identifying areas within the department that could focus on more complex projects if they had additional help. 

What sorts of resources are provided for interns?

student intern in helicopter For an internship to be successful, it is important to set students up with the necessary tools. At the most basic level, a workspace, including a computer, access to an email account, and a phone, should be provided. At the beginning of the program, interns should also be briefed on the department layout, computer network, and given a tour to become familiar with the building and meet staff. Other preparatory steps may depend on the program area. For instance, interns working in epidemiology or mapping projects may need access to software such as SAS and GIS. Intern working in communications might benefit from websites, guidebooks, or blogs. Funded internships programs or interns brought on as LTEs may include official onboarding procedures. More developed programs that place a distinct emphasis on the intern’s growth may provide a mentor within the organization who is separate from the supervisor. This practice helps interns feel more comfortable and gives them an alternate space for questions, general discussions, and networking. Professional development resources and opportunities, such as trainings or setting up informational interviews, are also beneficial.  

What activities does an intern complete on a day-to-day basis?

Work activities vary greatly depending on the individual. Interns may have a few staff meetings throughout the day, but most of their time will be spent working on projects. Students working in epidemiology might spend good portions of their day working on data analysis using GIS or SAS, while those in health education or communications might conduct research and draft resources. Additionally, interns can attend staff and department meetings to hear about activities and projects in other programs.

What types of long term projects do interns complete?

Long term projects vary based on the type of internship and the department in which the intern is working. Some projects include creating lesson plans and a curriculum for grantee trainings, a birth-defects report, and a report and presentation on home energy assistance programs. Oftentimes the internship culminates in a final report or presentation that can be used in partner meetings or within the department. The most successful internship programs require interns to create a workplan for their projects to map out their long-term goals. It is also possible for a student to continue work done in their practicum in their capstone project.  

How many hours does an intern commit a week? How is his or her time split up?

During the school year interns usually commit between 10 and 20 hours a week. In the summer interns may commit up to 40 hours a week, especially if the internship is paid. Some capstone or practicums have requirements of 240 hours total. Interns working on specific projects focus most of their time in that area, while interns working more generally split up their time evenly between different projects. 

How much contact should the intern have with staff and other professionals in the field?

Part of the internship process is learning about the field and making connections with staff and other professionals. Interns should also regularly attend relevant staff and department meeting where they can get feedback on projects and learn about potential areas for collaboration. If projects overlap, interns may have the opportunity to work in a variety of subject areas. While the intern’s core projects are priority, allowing students to explore their interests and collaborate often leads to more successful internships.

What specific skills do interns need for or develop through the internship?

Student intern working with animal control with focus on rabiesInterns are generally expected to have some prior coursework relevant to their program. For instance, interns working in epidemiology should have already completed several classes in this area. Interns working in health education or communication are more adaptable as there aren’t specific requirements. Skills in SAS or GIS are may helpful depending on the program area, although some interns can teach themselves these programs throughout the course of the internship. Interns may gain skills in evaluation, quality improvement, strategic planning, and governmental writing. More generally, interns learn how public health systems and large departments function.

How should an intern’s progress be reviewed?

Student Intern Collecting Water SamplesCreating an open communication system where interns can receive feedback and ask questions easily is crucial to the success of the internship. Many times, an internship is the first opportunity for students to work in a professional environment. Developing a feedback structure for your interns will benefit both the intern and the activities they are working on.

Supervisors should meet with interns at least weekly, to discuss project activities, any difficulties, or questions they may have. Additionally, email should be used to reinforce guidance and project goals. Constructive feedback will not only impact the project, but also build the intern’s work habits for the future.

Students fulfilling a capstone or practicum may be required to complete a more in-depth progress review mid-way through the internship and at its conclusion. Relevant staff can also be sources of feedback for interns’ projects.