Learning from Graduate and Undergraduate Public Health Virtual Internship Experiences with State Title V Agencies During COVID-19, Summer 2020

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Background: Since summer 2014, the National MCH Workforce Development Center has placed students from MCH public health graduate (Centers of Excellence and Catalyst) and undergraduate (MCH Pipeline) programs, all funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, in summer internships with state and territorial Title V agencies. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Title V MCH Internship Program was offered virtually.

Participants and methods: This manuscript includes quantitative and qualitative data from 2017 to 2020 generated by both Title V MCH Internship student interns (n = 76) and their preceptors (n = 40) with a focus on a comparison between the 2020 virtual year and the 2017-2019 years.

Results: Evaluation data from the 2017 to 2020 Title V MCH Internship Program from both students and preceptors revealed the implementation of a robust and successful internship program in which students increased their confidence in a variety of team, mentorship, and leadership skills while gaining direct exposure to the daily work of state Title V agencies. However, students and preceptors identified more challenges during 2020 compared to previous years.

Conclusions: The COVID-19 Pandemic was both a disruption and a catalyst for change in education. While there were clearly some challenges with the pivot to a virtual Title V MCH Internship Program in summer 2020, students were able to participate in meaningful internship experiences. This success can be attributed to the ability of the internship sponsor to engage in best practices, including extensive planning and provision of ongoing support to the students. Going forward, it is recognized that virtual internships may facilitate access to agencies in distant locales, eliminating issues related to housing and transportation. When both virtual and in-person relationships are available, those responsible for internship programs, including the Title V MCH Internship, will need to weigh these type of benefits against the potential missed opportunities students may have when not able to participate in on-site experiences.