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How Can We Support the Development of Successful Academic Health Departments?

Date: 5/21/2013 9:59 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

New members were welcomed into the Academic Health Department (AHD) Learning Community with webinar meetings on May 17 and 23, 2013. More than 130 people have joined the AHD Learning Community since this time last year, and these meetings provided an opportunity for public health and primary care professionals to start getting engaged. As an introduction to the Learning Community, each meeting was designed with new members in mind and focused on two questions:

  • What is an academic health department?
  • How does the Academic Health Department Learning Community support the development, maintenance, and expansion of AHDs?


In his presentation, Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice Chair C. William Keck, MD, MPH described AHDs, emphasizing the characteristics and benefits of such partnerships and how these partnerships can develop. He also spoke about the current activities of the AHD Learning Community, including meetings and other discussion, resources, and member profiles, and offered suggestions for future activities. Ideas being considered include:

  • Increasing the number and enhancing the searchability of member profiles.
  • Conducting a needs assessment to determine where to focus Learning Community efforts.
  • Establishing subgroups to explore specific topics.
  • Forming a mentorship program.

Additional suggestions are welcome.


Discussion during the meetings focused on what could help further the development of AHDs and the AHD Learning Community, with the following ideas emerging:

  • Refining the definition of “academic health department.” How do we know an AHD when we see one? An AHD involves a connection between a public health practice and an academic organization, but there are a variety of other partnership elements that may or may not be present. The knowledge base may be too limited at this point to know which elements are critical for an organization to call itself an AHD; identifying and learning more about organizations with these connections could help.
  • Knowing where formal AHDs and organizations interested in developing AHD partnerships are located. Could the AHD Learning Community map the locations of AHDs or of its membership? Currently, individuals interested in this information can query the Public Health Foundation (PHF), but it may be useful for the Learning Community to consider making this more publicly available.
  • Having a source of best practices for successful collaboration. How can we find out what works? Several efforts may help in this area. PHF is exploring building such a resource and the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice is planning a theme issue on AHDs for 2014. Until then, the Learning Community’s bibliography of AHD literature offers a starting point.
  • Strengthening connections with other groups, such as the Public Health Practice-Based Research Networks, and with issues related to health reform, such as community benefit requirements for non-profit hospitals. Many exciting changes are occurring in public health; how can we be strategic moving forward?
  • Identifying grant money. Are there sources of money for developing AHDs or AHD-related resources? Strategic partnerships and connections to health reform may help, and local foundations could be a place to start in seeking funding opportunities.
  • Exploring incentives for AHD engagement. Are there ways to provide recognition for organizations that participate in collaborative relationships?
  • Considering the role of professional associations such as the American Public Health Association, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials. How can these organizations help build support for AHDs?


For more details, watch the archive of the May 17th meeting on TRAIN, if you would like to keep a record of completion in your TRAIN Transcript, or at this direct archive link.


These questions are a great start to a larger discussion about AHDs and the role of the AHD Learning Community in supporting partnership efforts. What questions do you have? What challenges do you face? How can your successes help others? What can the Learning Community do for you? I invite you to share your thoughts on any of the above questions, pose questions of your own, and get involved in the Learning Community. Comments may be left below by clicking the "Add a Comment" link or sent by email to


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


Add A Comment

C. William Keck


The call for papers for the AHD themed edition of the JPHMP went out last year and papers are in the last stages of peer review. There is no room for more papers for that edition at this point. That doesn't mean, however, that papers about the AHD concept couldn't be submitted to the JPHMP or any other appropriate journal at any time. Actually, it would be refreshing to see many more manuscripts developed on this subject and printed in a variety of journals. Thinking about ways to engage NALBOH in this effort is a very good suggestion.

Marc D Hiller


Thanks for setting up this blog. The more communication that we can have/promote among those interested in AHD and their respective lessons learned and/or best practices the more we may all benefit... particularly in this era of scarce resources. I am particularly interested in potential AHD internship opportunities for our undergraduate students in our public health option (400 hours during May-August under the mentorship of a mid-level/executive department administrator/practitioner) each year. Will there be a call for papers for the JPHMP special issue? May want to include the National Association of Local Boards of Health (NALBOH) when considering the role of professional associations as well.

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