Fieldwork FAQ

What is the Required Fieldwork Experience?

CEPH requires that all MPH students in its accredited programs demonstrate the application of basic public health (PH) concepts through a practice experience that is relevant to the student's area of specialization. Thus, the goal of Penn's Required Fieldwork Experience (RFE) is for a student to gain real-world PH experience while building PH skills and competencies through engagement in meaningful PH activities. The RFE is to be conducted under the supervision of a community preceptor from a community-based fieldwork site.  A community preceptor is a professional working at the selected community based fieldwork site who has agreed to work with and advise students until the completion of placement.  Fieldwork should be mutually beneficial to the student and the community organization.

Examples of acceptable fieldwork activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Designing and delivering PH health education activities,
  • Developing a PH resource guide or planning and facilitating immunization or other PH programs,
  • Designing and administering PH heath surveys and interviews for a PH organization or PH project leader.

Activities conducted as a part of the RFE must contribute to programming that has the potential to have a population level impact.

Activities must also be easily linked to at least 5 competencies, of which at least 3 must be foundational or “core”. Two Track specific (i.e. global or environmental health) competencies may be included in the five.

How do I link PH Competencies to my RFE?

Each study track within Penn’s MPH Program is aligned with the MPH core competencies that all MPH students must achieve. These Core Competencies can be found here. In addition, each specialty track also has an additional set of tailored competencies. All MPH students may draw on core competencies and track specific competencies in planning their fieldwork experience. Students must choose 5 relevant competencies that they will work towards achieving during their RFE. These competencies must include at least 3 core competencies and be listed on the RFE Approval Form (See RFE Approval Form) and also noted on a summary form which must include a timelog that documents student hours and activities performed (See RFE Log Form).

The Generalist track public health competencies are a set of self-identified and self-directed competencies which are outlined by each student on his or her individualized study plan and aligned are with preapproved elective coursework. Refer to this link to view examples of Generalist track competencies (Generalist track competencies). The Global Health and the Environmental Health competencies are aligned with specific courses which have been identified to deliver a track specific skill set particular to these content areas. Follow this link to the Global Health competencies (Global Health competencies) and this link to the Environmental Health competencies (Environmental Health competencies).


What activities are NOT considered appropriate for the RFE?

Activities that would not be considered fieldwork include work done solely to meet an academic requirement for a course, including the Capstone course (e.g. conducting a literature review as part of the preparation of a paper or presentation for a course, completing an IRB application for a research project required in a course, or meeting with faculty to plan an assigned course project).

How many hours do I need to spend in the field?

Students are required to work a minimum of 125 hours on a PH project to complete the RFE.

The 125 hours of applied practice experiences may be concentrated in time or may be spread throughout a student’s enrollment.

What is an acceptable Fieldwork site?

A wide range of agencies and community-based faculty-led projects can provide a valuable RFE for students. In general, any organization or faculty member project that researches, provides, plans for, coordinates, organizes, pays for, or regulates public health services in the community is likely a valid training site. Participating sites agree to provide the student with a suitable field experience for a designated period of time. They also agree to assist in the professional development of that student by identifying an appropriate Community Preceptor. Additionally, the site provides the student with all materials, equipment, and space needed to conduct the work in a professional work environment.

University-affiliated settings must be primarily focused on community engagement, typically with external partners. University health promotion or wellness centers may also be appropriate. Regardless of setting, sites must be identified in a manner that is sensitive to the needs of the agencies or organizations involved.  Activities meeting the applied practice experience should be mutually beneficial to both the site and the student.


Opportunities may include the following:

  • A practicum or internship completed during a summer or academic term
  • Activities linked to service learning, as defined by the MPH program
  • Co-curricular activities (eg, service and volunteer opportunities, such as those organized by a student association)
  • A credit based course linked to a service learning project
  • A health promotion or wellness project affiliated with a University, including UPenn
  • A research project linked to or engaged with a community-based partner

Who is a Community Preceptor?

A Community Preceptor is a PH professional working in or collaborating with a PH focused organization or on a PH project. The Community Preceptor is the professional on-site and responsible for supervision of the student. Preferably, this individual will be a PH practitioner. In all cases, the Community Preceptor is expected to have expertise in the area of the student‘s project, so proper guidance can be provided. The Community Preceptor must all agree to participating in necessary paperwork and process related to the RFE.

A variety of PH professionals can be community preceptors. As noted above, it is preferable that the Community Preceptor has an MPH degree, however, this is not necessary if the selected Community Preceptor has the knowledge, skills and experience to properly supervise and mentor the student in the selected area of practice. Examples of appropriate Community Preceptors include:

  • A Program Manager at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health
  • A Director of Research at a PH organization such as the Maternity Care Coalition or the Food Trust
  • A faculty member at Penn overseeing a community based public health initiative that is engaged in fieldwork with a specific community or population.

What are Community Preceptor Tasks?

The preceptor must agree to collaboratively work with the student to design the RFE, develop a set of learning objectives and goals, outline the expected scope of work and describe the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved. Once the project has started, the Community Preceptor is responsible for supervising the student in the field, assessing their performance, and assuring the student experience is rich and effective.

Specific tasks include:

  • Orient the student to the project/organization, to other staff members and to the community in which the project/organization is located.
  • Identify and/or tailor a PH project of significance and work with the student to identify responsibilities and/or deliverables for this project. Develop a Scope of Work and related learning objectives, to be outlined in the RFE Approval Form, which reflects expectations for the assigned PH project.
  • Collaborate with the student to create a work schedule for the RFE.
  • Ensure that any research involving human subjects that is intended for publication and/or presentation has IRB approval and that the student's role, if any, meets IRB requirements.
  • Provide adequate physical facilities and equipment for the student to perform assigned work.
  • Meet regularly with the student during the RFE to assess progress and provide performance feedback.
  • Make sure the student has appropriate training and equipment to ensure safety as per OSHA regulations (as appropriate).
  • Notify the MPH Program of any potential problems regarding the student’s progress that cannot be resolved after speaking with the student.
  • Evaluate the student’s performance at the completion of the RFE on forms provided by the MPH Office.

What forms do I need to complete for the RFE?

Students need to complete three forms and 2 deliverables over the course of their RFE:

  • The RFE Approval Form

The RFE Activity Log

  • The RFE Summary Form
  • Two deliverables submitted electronically on the summary form which convey application of core competencies (i.e. written reports, presentations, data briefs, etc.). Note: The materials may originate from multiple experiences or a single, intensive experience with one site.

The approval form and activity log requires signatures from the Student and of the Community Preceptor. For the RFE to be finalized, the Community Preceptor also is expected to fill out a student evaluation form. This form is not shared with the student, but the RFE cannot be considered completed until it is received.

When do I submit the RFE forms?

All forms noted above must be submitted online via Jotform. These forms can be found on the Canvas MPH Home Base. The approval form must be submitted within one week of placement; the other forms are to be submitted at the conclusion of placement. All forms can be downloaded or accessed electronically on canvas.  *Note: all 4 forms related to the RFE (approval, log, summary and student evaluation) need to be received by the MPH Office no later than 6 weeks prior to the student’s expected graduation date.

Can dual degree students double count Fieldwork hours if their other degree program also includes a Required Fieldwork Experience?

Yes. Dual degree students can count fieldwork hours also being applied to the requirements of their other degree program, as long as 125 hours of this time includes work on a PH relevant project which contributes to population level impact. Further, all RFE activities undertaken by the student must be linked to selected competencies within the MPH Program and qualify as an appropriately directed and supervised experience.

Can the Fieldwork and Capstone Project be integrated?

Yes. Students have the option of combining their RFE and Capstone Project. Combined projects must include 125 hours of fieldwork and a final, culminating project that meets the requirements of the Capstone course and Capstone Mentor.

Can I complete my RFE at my current workplace?

Students working at PH-focused organizations can only do their RFE at that site if the project they take on to fulfill their 125 hour RFE is outside of their normal, day-to-day activities and job description. Additionally, the student’s selected Community Preceptor cannot be their current supervisor.




Can I waive my Fieldwork requirement based on previous experience prior to coming to Penn?

No. Students with current or prior PH work experience cannot waive the RFE.

Additional questions? Contact Elaine Weigelt at

Students may set up consulting appointments with Elaine Weigelt, Community Outreach Program Manager to help with placement. Please fill out a pre-meeting information form and contact Elaine ( to set up an appointment.