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How Public Health Internships Can Advance Your Career

April 14, 2024

Public health internships promote hands-on experiences and opportunities for students to gain skills in a real-world setting. They also offer avenues to explore some of the many roles within the public health sector. Students who are interested in furthering their career prospects should explore the benefits of internships, the types of internships available, and how internships can augment the skills gained in graduate programs in public health.

Understanding Public Health Internships

Like internships in other fields, public health internships are learning opportunities that allow students to work alongside professionals in their chosen public health field or a related field. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and some offer college credit upon completion. In some cases, interns document their experiences or present their work at the end of the internship to demonstrate the knowledge and/or experience they acquired.

Responsibilities of a Public Health Intern

The specific responsibilities of an intern can vary, but a central goal is to learn about the duties of a full-time professional in the field. Here are just a few examples of responsibilities that may be part of a public health internship.

  • Observe and collaborate with public health professionals
  • Research public health topics, such as population data or disease tracking
  • Attend meetings to learn more about decision-making processes in public health
  • Support program implementation

Interns, just like the professionals they work for, often perform in an office setting, though other responsibilities require fieldwork in healthcare facilities or other environments. Interns may be assigned projects to work on independently or may spend the entire internship working closely with a team of public health professionals.

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Skills Required for a Public Health Internship

Before applying for an internship in the public health sector, students and recent graduates should review the relevant skills for success.

  • Technical knowledge. Interns aren’t expected to be ready to take on the entire workload of a professional public health practitioner, but they should have a basic understanding of public health concepts and the duties of the position. Most positions require at least a basic knowledge of research methodologies and data analysis.
  • Safety training. Public health interns should be familiar with safe practices in the industry to promote workplace safety along with other practitioners.
  • Written and verbal communication. Interns will report directly to an individual manager or a team of professionals and will need to clearly communicate any questions or concerns about their role. They should also be able to report on the process and describe the benefits of the internship.

Types of Internships for Public Health Students

There are as many public health internships as there are roles in the public health sector, covering a broad range of disciplines and specialties. Prospective interns should carefully review their skills, previous experience, and desired career paths as they apply to available internships. Here are a few of the focus areas of public health internships.

  • Epidemiology
  • Population health
  • Health technology
  • Communications and education
  • Public policy and administration
  • Environmental health

Internships can be competitive, particularly those offered by government agencies and top-tier public health research institutions. Students should carefully review the application process and the available internships they qualify for.

Benefits of Public Health Internships for Students

Internships are available for both students and recent graduates who wish to take the next step in their career journey. Here are a few benefits of public health internships to consider.

Mentoring Opportunities

Many organizations see internships as opportunities to connect leaders in the industry with students. Mentorships can be incredibly valuable in a career journey, offering students tips on industry best practices and professional recommendations. Mentors can encourage future public health professionals with advice and encouragement tailored to their strengths and weaknesses.

Professional Networking

Working side-by-side with public health professionals can be an excellent advantage for interns preparing to apply for their first job in the industry. For interns who are already public health professionals, the professional networking of an internship can help them transition into a new specialization in the field.

Hands-on Experience

A bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in a public health-related field may qualify recent graduates for a position, but many employers encourage hands-on experience even for entry-level positions. Gaining experience in a lab or assisting in fieldwork is a competitive advantage for any applicant in the public health sector.

Career Exploration

Internships allow students to explore the field before they decide on a specific career path. Students may be able to specialize in a particular area of public health based on their internship. Working directly with professionals in the field offers new insights into what a public health professional does and whether a particular role is suited to a student’s passions.

Prepare for Your Public Health Career Pathway

Participating in public health internships offers you a competitive advantage in your career journey. Another major step forward in your training is to consider enrolling in the Online Master of Public Health program at Tulane University. 

Discover how you can conduct real public health analysis and study side-by-side with award-winning practitioners in this flexible, online program.

Advance Your Public Health Career with an MPH Program

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings

Community Health Promotion in Rural Areas

Strategies for Community Health Advocate: Roles and Responsibilities

Community Health Educator: Salary and Job Description


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Short-Term Internships for Students

Handshake, Public Health Internships: Benefits & What to Expect

HHS Public Access, “Exploring the Benefits and Value of Public Health Department Internships for Environmental Health Students”

National Consortium for Health Science Education, “Five Benefits of a Global, Virtual Healthcare Internship”

Zippia, Public Health Internship Overview