Mary Hanley

MPH program, Global Health

Evaluating health care delivery for women in Boston homeless shelters


Describe the work you’re doing for your practicum.

As a summer intern I assist the Principal Investigator in evaluating the Women of Means health care-delivery model, which provides free health care to homeless women in Boston’s shelters.

What are the greatest challenges and successes you’ve had so far?

The greatest challenge so far has been finalizing the questionnaire so that all areas are covered and at the same time ensuring that no question is useless or repetitive. The greatest success was completing and analyzing focus group discussions for relevant themes to inform the questionnaire development.

What have you found to be helpful in making the most of your practicum?

Taking the time to get to know the people you are trying to help. Without understanding where they have been and what they need, then you are really not helping them but telling them what you think would help.

What skills have you been able to put to use?

My Monitoring & Evaluation and Applied Research Methods classes gave me the experience to create focus group discussion guides and questionnaires for meaningful qualitative and quantitative analysis.

What experience have you been able to gain?

This has been a great opportunity to learn how a small NGO in the Boston community can make a big impact on peoples’ lives. I have learned a lot not just about program evaluation, but also about the challenges of working with the homeless population and their complex needs.

What tips can you offer to practicum students in terms of setting the stage for a successful practicum?

Be upfront at the beginning of the practicum about what they want you to do and what you can offer. Also, look for practicums throughout the semester—you may find that you have the time to start a practicum in the middle of a semester.

How did you find your practicum placement?

The SPH Practicum website. I was clicking through in the middle of the semester and found something that really interested me, and started a few weeks later.

Has your practicum met your expectations? In what ways do you think your practicum will inform the next steps in your public health career?

It has exceeded my expectations by providing not only educational experience, but real-life experience as well. It has really opened my eyes to the homeless situation in Boston.

I am just 8 credits away from graduating from SPH, but I know my practicum has helped transform what I learned in the classroom into real-life experience. While I previously thought I would like to work abroad, I have instead switched my focus to wanting to help urban populations here “at home” in the US. I think that what I learned in GH is relevant to helping the homeless because GH focuses on low-resource, vulnerable, and dynamic populations—and the homeless population in Boston certainly fits as well.