MPH students gain real-world experience with new COPH course offering

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Last spring, the USF College of Public Health debuted a new hands-on course called “Community Application of Public Health Science” (CAPHS). It was developed for MPH students with the aim of giving them real-world experience in public health program evaluation.

COPH professors Drs. William Sappenfield and Jennifer Marshall designed and led the course.

“One of the comments we kept hearing from the community partners who hire our graduates was that while they had the tools and knew the steps, they didn’t know how to complete a project from start to finish,” said Sappenfield. “We wanted to develop a course that would allow students to work with community groups on a project and produce something that was of benefit to the actual people they’re working with.”

Sappenfield and Marshall teamed with St. Joseph’s Children’s Wellness and Safety Center. The students could choose to evaluate one of three of the center’s programs:

  • Family Access to the Mobile Medical Clinic
  • Child Developmental Screening Program
  • HPV Vaccination in the Mobile Medical Clinic
COPH students assessed some of the programs offered by St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Mobile Medical Clinic. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Marshall)

Most of the evaluation work, done according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, was performed in the classroom, with St. Joseph’s participating in person or over the phone.

Some of the methods students used in their evaluations, said Marshall, included secondary data analysis and mapping; interviews with program partners, staff and participants; family surveys; and observational visits. Results were shared with staff and their community stakeholders via reports and presentations.

Samantha Scott, who received her MPH this summer with a concentration in maternal and child health, worked on the Child Developmental Screening Program. She and her team partnered with St. Joseph’s developmental specialist to provide the program leaders with an overview of the children they serve, their developmental screening results and the referral process for intervention services.

“I choose this course because I wanted to take what I learned in the classroom, apply it to a real-world setting and gain hands-on experience before graduating,” said Scott, who noted that the course gave her greater career confidence. “We didn’t just learn how to complete an evaluation. We produced a tangible report that was valuable to the community. This kind of skill set will help set me apart in the field.”

The course will be offered again in spring 2020, says Sappenfield.

“The feedback we got from the students was overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “They feel confident that they can take their work to the next level. And it’s a win for the college as well, as one of our initiatives is to get students more field experience.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health