So you made it, you’re finally a Master of Public Health student bright-eyed and ready to create changes that will improve the health of many in your community, your country or maybe even within one small subgroup you’re interested in. But first, you have a few hurdles to pass, one of which is the oh-so exciting internship. Having completed two internships myself, there are a few things I’ve learnt along the way that I believe may help you get the most out of your experience. So here they are:
- Don’t choose an internship just because it’s paid
A paid internship may be tempting. As a student, you have endless bills and hardly any income, so making $10,000 in 4 months does sound tempting. However, if the paid internship doesn’t align with your interest, or won’t offer you a challenging experience where you can grow and learn as a public health professional, you may just be wasting your time. This is an easy trap to fall into. I, too, have taken an internship opportunity for the pay and later felt that I had not accomplished all the goals I had set for myself because my role didn’t have the space for me to do that.
- Reach out to organizations and people that interest you, you never know who may be able to offer you an internship
After my first internship, I knew I wasn’t interested in research. However, many of the positions available through my university were research-based. As a result, I started to do some research on organizations in my city that had departments working on what I was interested in doing. That’s how I stumbled upon the Association of Ontario Midwives and reached out to the department head explaining who I was, what I was studying and what I was looking for. To my surprise, this email led to an amazing practicum opportunity that was adapted to meet my learning objectives. So take that chance, reach out, because you never know who might be able to offer you a unique opportunity. The worst case is that they say no or connect you with someone else.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for more work
One important lesson I learnt during my internship experience was that my supervisors were there to help me achieve my learning goals, and the only way for them to do this was if I communicated with them. That being said, if you feel you aren’t getting the most out of your experience, or that you are often sitting around your desk with little work to do, simply let them know and ask for more work. If your supervisor is supportive, they will do everything in their power to try and find you additional tasks or projects that will help you reach your developmental goals.
- Network within the organization
Often you will find yourself within a small team or department for your internship experience. It is important to note that your time at this organization does not need to be restricted to that team. It’s important to reach out to other teams or people you find interesting and set up a time to meet with them and learn about their role and the work that their team is doing. Your internship is your opportunity to learn as much as you can about all of the various roles you could hold post-graduation. Therefore, taking the time to meet with these people during your internship, while you are already embedded in the organization and there to learn and grow, is the perfect opportunity so don’t pass it up!
- It’s okay to ask for time away to develop other professional competencies
One thing I learnt during my internship was that it was okay to ask your supervisor for time away in order to pursue professional development courses or to attend conferences. Your supervisor will most likely be understanding that you are still a student, and will value your academic goals and professional development plan. If an opportunity comes up to attend a conference, take a course you are interested in or meet with someone to talk about their career path, don’t be afraid to run it by your supervisor and ask for time away from your work. From my experience, your supervisor will be excited that you have this opportunity and will do everything in their power to make accommodations.
Now that you are well equipped to start your MPH internship, remember to make the most of the experience and the freedom and flexibility that comes along with it. This is your opportunity to test drive a potential future career and make a lasting impression with an organization that could be your future employer, so make the most of it!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the organizations the author is associated with.
About the author
Erica is currently completing her Master of Public Health in Indigenous Health at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. During her studies, she has had the opportunity to work as a Research Assistant and the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health and as a Communications Intern for the Indienous Midwifery department at the Ontario Association of Midwives.