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Master of Public Health Community-Based Practicum: Students' and Preceptors' Experiences

Villanueva, Augusta M. PhD; Hovinga, Mary E. PhD; Cass, Jonathan L. MPH

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: July/August 2011 - Volume 17 - Issue 4 - p 337–343
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3182140c78
Original Article

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.

In this article the students' service learning ethos is manifested in value attributed to the practicum and community advocacy.

Department of Community Health and Prevention, (Dr Villanueva), and Office of Academic Affairs (Dr Hovinga and Mr Cass) Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Correspondence: Augusta M. Villanueva, PhD, Department of Community Health and Prevention, Drexel University School of Public Health, 1505 Race St, Rm 1138, Mail Stop 1032, Philadelphia, PA 19102 (

Copyright © 2011 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.