Public Health Internships: The Ultimate Guide
One of the best things you can do as you position yourself for a career in public health is to participate in an internship. An internship is a temporary position with an organization in the field, which may or may not offer payment or college credit for participation. It is meant to help you learn new skills and gain some experience in your field of expertise. Many public health programs encourage students to participate in an internship in order to get hands-on experience in their particular niche of public health work. This can be beneficial to the student, since it provides him or her with work experience, rather than having to try to get a salaried job without any non-college experience on their resume. The primary benefit of an internship is the experience and networking opportunities, as even paid internships usually only offer a small stipend, and not a full salary.
Some of the types of organizations that regularly take on interns in public health positions are listed below:
- Government agencies help you learn about policy development. You might be involved in research, communications, or the ins and outs of public policy. It is sometimes even possible to do public health policy internships with other governments, or with U.S. government embassies and representatives abroad.
- Non-profit organizations intent on education and providing aid might provide internships. This includes organizations that educate the poverty-stricken on health practices, as well as organizations that provide food, health and water aid. Global humanitarian foundations can also provide internship opportunities.
- For-profit corporations that produce or market health products and services might also offer internships. This includes lobbying firms for the health care industry manufacturers and others.
- Clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and other similar organizations might also offer internships that can provide you with a chance to learn how a clinic works, and give you firsthand experience in health administration.
Applying for a Public Health Internship
Some internships are quite competitive, so it helps to cultivate different options. Even though internships may not be paid positions, there are often limited positions available, so you will have to go through an application process. You will need to show that you have good grades, are doing well in your public health emphasis, and that you are prepared to learn more about a career in public health. Many internship applications require you to submit a resume or curriculum vitae, cover letter, references, and letters of recommendation. It is a lot like applying for a job, or applying to attend a university program. Some public heath internships may also require a background check.
Before you apply for a public health internship, make sure that you understand which materials are required, and the due date. If you need letters of recommendation, try to get them from people who are active in a field related to your desired internship. The need for letters of recommendation is one reason that it is a good idea to develop positive relationships with your instructors, and network with professionals in your field of study. You need to be in a position to receive a positive letter from people who know you well, and who can give you an honest — and good — recommendation. Likewise, your references should be people who know you and are involved in public health. Be sure to contact your references to let them know that you are applying for an internship, and confirm that it is acceptable to list them.
Finding Public Health Internships
The first place to look when attempting to secure a public health internship is your university’s career center. Most career centers offer helpful suggestions on getting internships, and can point you in the right direction. Your department at the university might also have information on internships in your field of study. If you have an academic adviser, ask him or her for internship opportunities that might be available.
You can also look online for public health internships. A simple search can bring up a number of possibilities. Go to state and federal agency websites, or go to the sites of companies or non-profits that you are interested in working with. Many of these sites offer information on internships.
If you do not find an internship opportunity listed at an organization you are interested in, or if you are trying to find a local public health internship, you can contact the organization directly. Contact a local charity, or your local public health department, and ask if you can intern. Many organizations are willing to accommodate students who want internships — especially if they are unpaid internships. Before you do this, though, you will need to clear the organization with your school. There might also be some additional forms and paperwork to fill out in order to get the organization approved by the university.
Prominent Public Health Internships
If you are interested in finding an interesting and challenging internship that will provide you with great experience, here are a few places to start your public health internship search:
- USA Jobs: Ground zero for government internships, including public health internships.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: A variety of public health internships are offered through the Administration on Aging, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Indian Health Service and the National Institutes of Health (including a biomedical research internship).
- World Health Organization: Get an internship with a well-known international organization devoted to public health.
- Association of Schools of Public Health: ASPH Internships offers a chance for you to find placement in different public health internships. Fellowships are also offered.
- American Cancer Society: Offers internship opportunities for those interested in public health from a non-profit standpoint.
- American Public Health Association: Work with this association on public health policy and public affairs. One of the most interesting internships is with National Public Health Week.
- PIH Institute for Health and Social Justice: Offers a summer internship program that focuses on health policy and health care for the poor.
- AIDS Foundation of Chicago: Research, clinical techniques, and statistical methods are required for this program internship.
- Our Bodies Ourselves: Internship focusing on women’s health and public health policy.
Volunteerism Looks Great on a Resume
Even if you can’t get money or credit for an internship, the initiative you show in seeking hands-on work in your field looks great on a job application, so get it any way you can. Organizations that don’t offer internships may still be willing to take you on as a volunteer, and while the work you do there probably won’t be your dream job, just being around other public health professionals gives you a priceless opportunity to learn. The U.S. Department of Education predicts rising rates of attendance at graduate and professional schools between now and 2018, so if you want to distinguish yourself from the onrushing crowd of workers with master’s degrees, you’ll want to get some added experience to put on your resume, and volunteering is a great way to do it.
When to Do A Public Health Internship
Pursuing an internship while you’re in school can be a lot of work, especially if you’re trying to find time for a family and a paid job as well. If you have the time, it is worth getting your schooling and internship done at once. Immersion in the subject of your studies will help you learn better and remember more of what you learn. If not, getting an internship right after finishing school is a good way to keep practicing while you look for a job in the field. A few strategies for pursuing internships while you’re in school include:
- Seek internships at organizations that don’t yet offer them. If you can be the first intern at a public health organization, you have a chance to shape your experience and set precedents that will benefit subsequent interns.
- If an organization’s internship program is unpaid, try to use that as leverage to get the hours you want, so it is easier to do school and an internship at the same time. If you’re working for them for no money, you should at least be able to set your own schedule.
The above resources are a good place to start looking for a public health internship, whether you’re already in school for your Master of Public Health, or just getting started looking at options, but the best resource is sometimes your personal network. For all the research you do on the internet, make sure you’re also talking to people in your area, contacting organizations and universities, and building up your contacts in the industry, so that when you’re not sure what comes next, you’ve got someone knowledgeable to ask.
Online Degrees in Public Health
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