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Applied Practical Experiences for MPH Students

What Are Applied Practical Experiences?

The Applied Practical Experience (APE) – also commonly called a practicum – is a community-based experience in the practice of public health.

All Master of Public Health (MPH) students at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health complete an APE as part of their degree requirements.

The APE is a supervised project or an internship learning alongside one of Dornsife's community partner organizations, generally over one term (quarter).

Applied Practical Experiences Provide Hands-On Opportunities

The APE is one way that Drexel Dornsife MPH students gain practical career experience in addressing critical public health challenges while earning their degree.

Students engage in real-world public health practice with external organizations and communities, expanding skills and networks outside the classroom.

In Dornsife’s MPH programs, students have multiple options for completing their practicum requirement, each providing a supported and enriching experience in the field of public health.

The public health practicum is a key part of the MPH program and ensures that students:

  • Gain new and enhance existing knowledge and skills
  • Widen the scope of professional activities, relationships, and networks
  • Integrate public health theory and research with practice
  • Apply public health concepts and methods to solve real world problems

The APE is "designed to create something tangible for the student that they’re going to have as a part of their portfolio” after graduation, explains Gina Lovasi, PhD, MPH, Dornsife Associate Professor of Urban Health and Associate Dean for Education, in Fortune Education.

What Are Examples of Applied Practical Experiences?

There are many different settings where students can complete their public health APE, including:

  • Nonprofits
  • Research organizations
  • Universities
  • Hospitals
  • Health centers
  • Government agencies

In 2021-22, 70% of APEs at Drexel Dornsife were based in Philadelphia. Other locations included multiple states across the U.S., one abroad, and some fully remote.

Applied Practical Experiences of Dornsife Students

A student’s practicum complements their MPH coursework, combines academic and professional goals, and builds confidence in their abilities as a public health practitioner.

Below are just some of the rewarding APE experiences of Drexel Dornsife students, in their own words:

Kristin Roadman headshot

Student experiences

Advancing Perinatal Psychiatry Access in Pennsylvania

Kristin's online APE focused on advocacy efforts for the reauthorizing the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

Read Kristin's story


three student headshots

Student experiences

Nurturing Public Health Leaders Through Experiential Learning

Hear from students who completed global practicums and local internships.

Watch video on the Dornsife SPH Life blog.


photo of five Fire Fellows

Student experiences

Summer APEs with the Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST)

The eighth class of FIRE Fellows will developing a workplace violence prevention course and DEI toolkit as part of their APE.

Read about the FIRE Fellows on the Dornsife SPH Life blog.


Other examples of Applied Practical Experiences are provided by the Dornsife Ambassadors, who are student representatives from our master's programs.

When Should You Complete the Applied Practical Experience?

A student's APE can begin after successful completion of Public Health Foundations and Systems I and II. Students generally complete about 120 hours, but there is no minimum hour requirement (no credits are earned).

A student's plan of study determines when they complete their APE. Read Step 1 of How to Find an APE for more on the APE timeline and prerequisites.

Finding an Applied Practical Experience Opportunity

Dornsife's Symplicity database houses a variety of potential practicum experiences, including the Applied Practical Experience.

Students may also find these experiences by connecting with faculty members, alumni, professional or personal contacts, or other independent research on opportunities.

Read about Dornsife student practice experiences and learn more about the process of finding an APE placement.

Finding a Virtual MPH Applied Practical Experience Opportunity 

Some public health APEs are completed in a virtual format. Even so, the APE provides a valuable way to gain real-world experience in the field of public health.

Experiences of Dornsife MPH students who completed their APE remotely and successfully include:

Practicum Preceptors for APE Experiences

All MPH APEs are supervised by a site preceptor who has experience in public health. The preceptor serves as the practicum or internship supervisor.

Preceptors meet at least bi-weekly with students to provide guidance and oversight. They do not assign a grade, but they provide feedback to the student’s faculty advisor. The preceptor determines the project tasks, deliverables, and weekly schedule for the APE in collaboration with the student.

Learn more about Becoming a Preceptor for a Public Health Student.

Learn More About Drexel Dornsife's Applied Practical Experience Program

The Applied Practical Experience provides MPH students with real-world training that supplements their knowledge about public health that is gained in the classroom.

Students gain resume-boosting practical experience by confronting critical public health challenges.

Drexel Dornsife’s Public Health programs can take you in many different directions. Request more information to speak with a member of our admissions team about programs and applied practical experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions About Applied Practical Experiences

How long does it take to complete an APE?

For most programs the APE involves approximately 120 hours of dedicated time during a 10-week term, though there is no minimum hours requirement.

Can I complete my APE at my current workplace?

Yes, however students interested in engaging in a project at their workplace must complete tasks that are outside of their current job duties or are housed in a different department.

Can I combine my APE with an Independent Study?

The APE may be combined with the Independent Study if it is an internship or a consulting project, or it may be a separate experience.

How does a student find an APE?

Visit How to Find an Applied Practical Experience to review the steps involved in finding an APE.

How is the APE graded?

In order to satisfy this MPH degree requirement (listed in the Drexel Catalog as PBHL 500), students must complete the APE and submit two associated deliverables. The deliverables can be in the form of (but are not limited to) PowerPoints, reports, policy briefs, program evaluation reports, and academic posters.

Can I complete the APE during a part-time MPH program?

Yes. Part-time MPH students usually complete the APE in the spring or summer of either their first or second year (sometime between late March and mid-September).

Can I complete my APE remotely?

Yes. It is possible to complete an APE remotely.

Do I need to submit an application for an APE? What items do I need to submit?

The document necessary for APE approval is called a Learning Agreement. The Learning Agreement is an agreement between the preceptor, student, and faculty mentor. See an example of a Learning Agreement.

Additionally, International Students must also complete and submit Curricular Practical Training (CPT) paperwork.