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Building and Strengthening Academic Health Departments in an Evolving Public Health Environment

Date: 11/19/2012 11:35 AM

Related Categories: Council on Linkages, Workforce Development

Topic: Council on Linkages, Workforce Development

Tag: Academic Health Department, Academic Health Department Learning Community, Council on Linkages, Email Newsletter Content, PHF E-News, Workforce Development

Author: Kathleen Amos

Kathleen Amos, MLIS, Project Manager, Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice, Public Health Foundation


The Academic Health Department (AHD) Learning Community tackled the development of successful AHD partnerships and potential roles for AHDs in an evolving public health environment as discussion topics during last month’s American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting. This meeting was only the second time the AHD Learning Community convened in person and offered an opportunity for Learning Community members to connect with and learn from each other and others who share their interest in furthering the development and growth of AHDs.

Following a brief introduction to AHDs and the AHD Learning Community by Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice Chair C. William Keck, MD, MPH, meeting participants focused their discussion around two primary topics: establishing an AHD and the role of AHDs in an evolving public health environment. Public health professionals from across the country weighed in on these topics, sharing their views and suggestions, as well as personal experiences. Take-away messages from the discussion included:

  • AHDs entail a melding of organizational cultures that may be very different. Communication, collaboration, and reciprocity are key to success in this endeavor. The organizations involved should truly feel like partners in a balanced relationship. It was acknowledged that often practitioners may feel that academic institutions take more than they give.
  • Having champions passionate about the value of AHDs in all of the organizations involved helps in building and maintaining strong partnerships, as can having support from organizational leadership.
  • Informal arrangements may still work well where formal agreements are not feasible due to political or other factors. Start by focusing on existing elements of collaboration and build from there.
  • Public health could benefit from welcoming practitioners into academia to teach students about public health practice, and there is a need to further identify and promote ways to achieve this.
  • Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), under the Affordable Care Act, must assure quality and improved health outcomes and limit cost increases associated with “health” services. This requires use of data, evidence, and population-based interventions. Unfortunately, many emerging ACOs do not include public health professionals in their development or implementation. It may be important and beneficial for public health practitioners and academicians to develop joint strategies for ensuring that public health voices are heard and public health perspectives, expertise, and practices are incorporated into the strategies of ACOs.
  • AHDs represent an opportunity for all partners, with benefits to both the academic and practice organizations involved.


The AHD Learning Community will continue to explore these topics, along with ways the Learning Community can better support its members in developing, maintaining, and expanding AHD partnerships, through its meetings and other activities. To get involved in the AHD Learning Community and join the discussion, please contact Kathleen Amos at


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The PHF Pulse Blog welcomes conversations and commentary from contributors. Posts may not necessarily reflect the views of Public Health Foundation.


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