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 should focus most of their time in that area, although students may also benefit from exploring other program areas. Interns working more generally in environmental health programs should split up their time evenly between different projects.
Work activities vary greatly depending on the individual. Interns may have a few staff meetings or calls 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. Students can also present at these meetings to hear feedback on their projects from a wider audience.
Long term projects vary based on the type of internship and the department in which the intern is working. Examples of projects include creating lesson plans and a curriculum for grantee trainings, drafting 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, as well as a timeline and daily activities. This ensures that students stay on track and have a tangible work project at the end of the internship.
Part of the internship process is learning about the field and making connections with staff and other professionals. Interns should also regularly attend staff or department meeting where they can get staff 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. This will allow interns to learn more about different project areas and gain skills outside of their internship concentration. While the intern’s core projects are priority, allowing students to explore their interests and collaborate often leads to more successful internships.
Interns 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.