There are several options for medical students to complete the required Path of Distinction in Public Health project/field experience. 

We require students to engage early and complete projects during the summer between their first and second year of medical school. Multiple opportunities exist through established programs and projects facilitated through the university. 

A project can range from a public health field experience (e.g., working in a community agency, health department or international setting) to a health care quality improvement project, to a public health research project. The project must be community-facing, meaning a community partner must be engaged in the project.

How do I find a project? 

Students who participate in the Path of Distinction in Public Health  may craft an experience specific to their interest in any area, such as urban health, rural health, global health, health care quality, health disparities and health policy. The Path of Distinction in Public Health collaborates with programs throughout the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. These programs offer ideal ways to have a field experience in an area of specific interest while meeting the requirements of Path of Distinction during the summer between their first and second year.

Potential projects

Shapiro Summer Research Program

Medical students at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health have numerous opportunities to engage in mentored research through several school-sponsored programs and external programs offered by the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and many others. Learn about the Shapiro Summer Research Program

Several Shapiro projects have a community-facing facet to the project or the opportunity to incorporate a community piece potentially exists.

Global Health Institute

The Global Health Institute (GHI) has created a range of global health field experiences for students in the health professions that may fulfill the Path of Distinction project requirement. Students who wish to pursue a global health field experience to fulfill the PoD-PH field experience requirement should contact James Conway, MD, and/or Betsy Teigland

Students who wish to do more in-depth learning about global health are encouraged to complete the Global Health Certificate.

Summer Research Clinical Assistantship

The Summer Research Clinical Assistantship offered by the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health allows students to work on clinically relevant, hands-on research under the mentorship of department faculty members.

Path of Distinction in Public Health Scholars

The Path of Distinction Public Health (PoD-PH) Scholars program is a distinguished subset of the PoD-PH cohort with special interest in leadership in medicine and public health. Community engagement and collaboration via specially designed summer learning projects is one key feature of this distinguished group of scholars. In addition, funding is awarded if selected. The Path of Distinction in Public Health Scholars cohort is selected through a competitive application. The program combines a series of didactic public health coursework with a Madison-community-based public health field experience.

Specific program objectives include the following:

  • Develop/improve leadership skills
  • Work collaboratively with individuals/groups from other disciplines
  • Improve community engagement skills and advocacy skills

As part of the program student would be complete the following:

  • Enroll in PHS 712: Leadership in Medicine and Public Health (1 credit) (prerequisite)
  • Enroll in PHS 715: Introduction to Community Engagement (1 credit) (spring of first year, Phase 1)
  • Spend 8-10 weeks conducting field work starting summer of Phase 1 and present findings
  • During the Phase 1 summer, participate in meetings
  • Share their experience and assist in transition of project to next cohort of Path of Distinction in Public Health Scholars

Path of Distinction in Public Health Scholars summer 2018 group project

The summer 2018 project opportunity is designed for up to four students to work as a group assisting Parvathy Pillai, MD, MPH, and Debbie Siegenthaler in exploring and further defining community engagement partnerships and learning experiences within the educational mission of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

We are interested in better understanding which organizations are engaged and in what capacity. We would also like to know the challenges and perceived benefits of community engagement for education. Ultimately, we hope that this will help us better understand how to foster a collaborative approach to community engaged educational activities across School of Medicine and Public Health programs and ensure all activities align with best practices in community engagement principles.

Project activities include: 

  • Gather and identify evidenced-based best practices regarding community-academic partnerships.
  • Assist with program and process evaluation of community engagement efforts including data collection, obtaining input from stakeholders via focus groups, surveys (including survey design), etc.
  • Assist in identifying and defining specific benefits/outcomes and the evaluation plan to measure progress, both for learners and for the community.
  • Contribute to quantitative and qualitative evaluation and data analysis efforts.
  • Develop and maintain collaborative relationships with a diverse range of groups, professionals, agencies and community members.

The ideal PoD-PH Scholar candidate should have:

  • Interest in population health and community engagement
  • Interest in data collection, survey design and implementation and data analysis 
  • Strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills in a team setting
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

Apply now

Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation summer fellowship opportunities

The goal of the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation’s Summer Fellowship Program is to provide medical students a public health, research and/or community service opportunity within a Wisconsin community. The experience exists to educate students about ways in which the medical profession can work to improve health through connections to community organizations and/or government.

The period of these fellowships is eight to 10 weeks. Fellowships are be selected on a competitive basis, based on fellowship proposals submitted.

General fellowships available: For these general fellowships, students have the opportunity to create their own project or to connect with an existing project and submit a proposal for funding consideration. MD-MPH students are also eligible to apply and should email to be connected with projects and mentors.

In addition, member physicians are willing to connect with students to create a project on many topics. All need to be submitted for funding consideration. For more information, contact Elizabeth Ringle at

Find a mentor

Here are a couple of resources to help students find mentors:

The student inquiry form (pdf) is designed to help students formulate thoughts about an area of interest and to help the placement site address and/or direct an inquiry to the appropriate person. Students should attach the completed form, along with a CV or resume, to all inquiries made to potential field placement sites and/or mentors/preceptors.