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Ask the AHD Expert: Pursuing Multiple AHD Partnership Opportunities

Date: 12/29/2017 11:54 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, Partnerships, PHF E-News, Workforce Development

​Bill Keck, MD, MPH, Chair, Academic Health Department Learning Community; Chair, Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice; Professor Emeritus, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Northeast Ohio Medical University
With so many possibilities for creating successful academic health department (AHD) partnerships, how do you know where to start? This fourth column in the Ask the AHD Expert series explores the development of AHD partnerships with multiple organizations.
Question: I'm looking for some advice from jurisdictions where there are many potential academic partners for the health department (many of which we work with ad hoc in the various capacities that are listed for AHDs). Much of the guidance I've seen has to do with a health department pairing with a single academic institution; what about when there are various options? Any advice on how to prioritize? Is it better to focus on fostering a deeper relationship with a single institution or to acknowledge our relationship with many?
What a wonderful challenge to have! Although it can seem overwhelming, consider pursuing relationships and partnerships with all those who are interested in working with you to the extent that you have the capacity to do so, as this will strengthen both your organization and theirs.
AHD partnerships develop and evolve over time and can take many different forms. As illustrated in the draft staged model of AHD development, partnerships can be more or less extensive, the level of engagement can ebb and flow between partners, and there is no expectation that the level of engagement you achieve with one partner needs to be the same for all others. Partnerships also need not be one-to-one. Some health departments work successfully with a number of academic institutions through individual partnerships, while others have brought multiple institutions together to work as a single collaborative.
As you are developing partnerships with various organizations, prioritize according to your needs and resources and those of your potential partners. Consider the resources each potential partner might bring to the partnership and which are most aligned with your health department’s prioritized needs. Perhaps one academic institution is more closely aligned with your health department’s mission or you have worked together successfully in the past. “Take the plunge” initially with an organization or organizations that best meet your health department’s prioritized needs and where the interpersonal relationships with the academic liaisons feel the most natural.
Also consider the resources you have in place to be able to be a good partner within these relationships and put in place processes that will help you be successful in working with others. Relationship building takes time and energy. Designate someone on your staff who is responsible for your organization’s partnerships with academic institutions, develop guidelines for student involvement in your health department, create processes to follow for facilitating student placements or engaging in research projects – make sure you have the systems in place to get what you need out of the partnership and help your partners achieve their goals as well. Take advantage of free resources available through the AHD Learning Community that can help you in developing partnerships, including stories of how other organizations have built partnerships, examples of partnership agreements organizations have used, and mentorship for one-on-one guidance and support.
Your question makes me think that a checklist of things to consider for making the best start within an AHD partnership could be useful, so we’ll throw out some ideas to get this discussion started. When you are thinking about developing an AHD partnership or partnerships, you may want to consider:
  • The strengths and weaknesses of each potential partner (including your own organization)
  • What resources your organization has available and where there are gaps
  • What needs your organization has that a partnership might help fill
  • Whether the potential partner has resources that are well aligned with your organization’s prioritized needs
  • Whether the organizations involved have a prior relationship and how strong that relationship is
  • Whether there are champions within the organizations that can help move the partnership forward
  • How experienced you and your organization are at developing partnerships
  • Whether you really want to say no to an organization that is interested in working with you, and if not, are there ways that you can stage your partnership building so that it is manageable
  • Would this partnership make a good example for attracting future potential partners
  • Would this partnership offer the biggest “bang for your buck”
  • If there are multiple potential partners, are there other ways beyond one-to-one partnerships to bring them all together to accomplish your goals
What else would you add to this list? Are there things you would leave out? Let us know in the Comments section below or by emailing Kathleen Amos at
Special thanks to Bryn Manzella, MPH, Director of Quality Improvement, Jefferson County Department of Health, AL, for sharing her perspectives on this question as well.
Ask the AHD Expert is a quarterly column of the Academic Health Department Learning Community. Have a question for our AHD experts? Submit your question today by email to for an opportunity to be featured in next quarter’s column! For more information about the AHD Learning Community or the Ask the AHD Expert column, please visit or contact Kathleen Amos at


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