Context: We studied students' perceptions regarding a required 120-hour practicum within a program including service learning and Problem-based Learning. Responses to pre- and postpracticum surveys and a second-year survey were analyzed for 2008 to 2010 graduates. Preceptors' responses regarding students' performance were also analyzed.
Objective: To assess attainment of public health competencies by analyzing student and preceptor identification of areas for improvement.
Design: Basis of study was a 29-item survey regarding competencies before/after practicum completion, and a 27-item postsurvey assessing perceptions of practicum, preceptor, and site. Instruments included a 5-point Likert Scale (1 = strongly disagree/highly ineffective to 5 = strongly agree/highly effective).
Setting: Practicum experiences are selected from more than 250 community-based partners including government, health systems & not-for-profit agencies.
Participants: Three first-year student cohorts and preceptors surveyed. Response rates varied across cohorts and instruments.
Main Outcome Measure(s): Study focused on satisfaction scores and pre- and postsurvey response differences reported by respondents.
Results: Students reported high degrees of satisfaction & value in learning by doing, increased ability addressing real world problems, and commitment to working in the community. Preceptors reported satisfaction with students' competency and ability completing projects.
Conclusion: Experiential learning in competency-based graduate public health education derived from Problem-based Learning and service learning shares commonalities and relevance with public health practice, illustrating how Problem-based Learning enhances students' ability becoming self-directed, collaborative, problem-solvers working with communities. Students' service learning ethos is manifested in value attributed to the practicum and community advocacy. Self-assessment of personal and professional development appears enhanced through the practicum experience.