CaRES Internships versus MPH Internships

UAB Master of Public Health (MPH) students must complete an “MPH internship” (field experience) to earn their degree.  Some MPH students think that completing a CaRES internship will satisfy their MPH internship requirement.  Is this true?  The answer is . . . maybe or maybe not, depending on the nature of the CaRES internship.

CaRES cancer research projects that are laboratory-based “basic science” studies, focus on animals, or are secondary data analyses, generally are NOT acceptable as MPH internships.  

An MPH internship is supposed to be a “public health practice” experience that involves human subjects and includes health education or public health activities (such as vaccinations) that the student could not deliver if doing basic science research, animal research, or statistical analyses.  Public health practice generally benefits the people with whom the student interacts (e.g., people at high risk for cancer, people treated for cancer, or people recovering from cancer).  In some research studies there is no direct benefit to the human subjects of the study; the benefits are to the next generation of people for whom cancer prevention is better understood or cancer treatment can be more effectively rendered.  Consider a genetic study of biological specimens from deceased cancer cases:  this may be a great CaRES research project, but it is not “public health practice” and would not likely be approved as an MPH internship.

CaRES projects that may be approved as MPH internships are projects that study people who have cancer or who are at high risk of cancer.  For example, a CaRES project that explores the effect of weight change on the speed of recovery of women who have been treated for breast cancer, may be acceptable as an MPH internship if the subjects of the study are given counseling on diet, weight control, and exercise.  Another example is a study of residents of rural Alabama to assess their environmental and lifestyle risk factors for cancer, and to advise them about how they can reduce their cancer risk.  When research on human subjects is done, recommendations for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding disease are typically given to the subjects of the study or can be added to a study protocol by the Principal Investigator, at a student’s request.

Not all CaRES research projects include “public health practice” so not all CaRES Internships will be approved as MPH Internships.  MPH students who want to complete a CaRES internship to fulfill their MPH internship requirement should meet with their academic advisor and with the MPH Internship Director in the Office of Student and Academic Services in the UAB School of Public Health, to determine whether the CaRES project they have in mind could be approved as an MPH internship.  Dr. Waterbor can give general guidance but final approval rests with the academic advisor and the MPH Internship Director, not with CaRES.