Enhancing Public Health Practice Through a Regional Student Field Placement Program

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Abstract

Experiential learning links knowledge to real practice through seasoned mentor support, professional reflection, and hands-on experience in authentic work environments. While academic public health programs seek to train the future workforce, the current workforce has a critical need for training as well. The Region IV Public Health Training Center’s Pathways to Practice Scholar program gives public health students the opportunity to apply knowledge to competency-based experiences while fulfilling the current workforce’s short- and long-term human resource needs. Placements are offered in all eight states of the region to broaden opportunities for both agencies and student scholars. On completion of the program, scholars are required to submit an executive summary, reflection statement, photos of the experience, and a draft abstract suitable for submission to a professional conference. Since 2015, 36 scholars have been placed in positions across Region IV, 11 in states other than those of their home universities. Students were placed at state, local, and tribal health departments; area health education centers (AHECs); and other agencies (e.g., primary care settings), and the most common work plan domains selected by scholars were analytic/assessment, policy development/program planning, and leadership/systems thinking skills. Scholars’ perceived confidence increased across all domains with the highest increases in financial planning/management and cultural competency. Program implementation and evaluation findings are described, including types of projects, differences in confidence in performing competency domains, and confidence and interest in working with underserved populations. Evaluation findings indicate that the Region IV Public Health Training Center scholars increased their confidence in performing practice competencies while providing support for public health agencies serving underserved populations.

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