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What is an Academic Health Department?

An Academic Health Department (AHD) represents a formal affiliation between an academic institution and a public health practice organization. Typically, an AHD joins a health professions school and a state or local health department. Health professions schools are academic institutions housing schools or programs in public health, medicine, nursing, dentistry, environmental health, health education, or any of a variety of other health fields.

The AHD arrangement is the public health equivalent of the "teaching hospital" affiliation that formalizes the relationship between medical schools and hospitals. It exists to strengthen the linkage between public health practice and its broad academic base and is designed to enhance public health education and training, research, and service. AHDs can serve as public health practice training sites for students and faculty in public health and clinical health sciences, as well as sites for research and active learning for members of both academic and practice communities.

For more information on Academic Health Departments, please read Academic Health Departments: Core Concepts.

In addition, the May 2014 and February 2015 issues of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice have devoted ample space to scholarly articles on Academic Health Departments.

Benefits of an Academic Health Department

This affiliation allows both partners to benefit from the educational and research connections that the affiliation represents. Specifically, these benefits include:

  1. Providing a location for the training of public health students in the practice of public health;
  2. Creating linkages between public health practice and academic communities to improve the scientific base for public health decision making and public policy development;
  3. Providing access for academicians to the community as a practice base for developing, refining and implementing public health teaching, research and service methods;
  4. Fostering partnerships among health professionals and community leaders to identify, create solutions for, and evaluate interventions that respond to community problems;
  5. Increasing the number of people who understand and appreciate public health practice;
  6. Increasing the prestige of public health as a viable academic or practice career choice; and
  7. Improving the community's health by enhancing the assessment, policy-making, and assurance capacity of local public health agencies.

(Adapted from: Keck, 1998, The Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice)

The local health department provides a real world learning environment for students and a wealth of data for researchers; in turn, academia provides workforce development opportunities, research expertise and workforce support in the form of both faculty and students.