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Academic Health Department

Bridging Knowledge | Improving Health

What is the Academic Health Department?

In 2011, the University of Tennessee Department of Public Health entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Knox County Health Department (KCHD), formalizing a long-standing set of relationships by establishing the Academic Health Department (AHD). The purpose of the AHD is to bridge public health academia and practice to improve public health.

You can read more about the AHD on the Knox County Health Department’s Academic Health Department page.

The conceptualization of an AHD was a response to the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) landmark study on the future of public health. Many deficiencies were identified by the IOM, including a disconnect between academic programs in public health and actual public health practice. This disconnect holds potential ramifications for workforce training and education, research, and resources. Imagine an academic program in medicine or nursing and the critical role which a teaching hospital plays in the educational experience. The AHD is the public health corollary to what this teaching hospital is for medical and nursing students.The AHD provides a practice setting where public health graduate students can apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real problems and challenges in the field. At the same time, the AHD provides the KCHD leadership staff opportunities to have direct input on curriculum to increase the applicability of the academic program to workforce needs, with better alignment between what is being taught in the classrooms with what the realities of public health practice requires. The benefits expand in other directions as well: the practice site has access to students, who not only can contribute to the work of the agency, but serve as a source for future employment; and, the faculty have access to programs and data which can facilitate practice-based research.

Three Focus Areas

(click on the links below for PDF examples of each area)

A partnership allows increased capacity and efficient use of everyone’s resources. Our AHD continually collects data to measure operations and outcomes, as specified in our AHD logic model and accompanying performance metrics. Measurable objectives with specific strategies are developed every fall, monitored quarterly, and summarized in a written annual report.annual report.

Benefits of the Academic Health Department

  • Education
    Engaging with timely, relevant topics to increase knowledge and skills. This two-way communication contributes to both workforce development and faculty connection with practitioners.
  • Relationship-Building
    Networking among practitioners, faculty, and students around areas of mutual interest builds and extends trust.
  • Practice-Focused Research
    Relevant research opportunities are identified as stakeholders discuss needs, emphasizing the iterative cycle where research translates to practice and practice informs research.
  • Shared Funding Opportunities
    Existing resources may be leveraged or new ones identified through collaboration.
  • Improve the Public’s Health
    The ultimate goal is to ensure that prevention interventions are supported by science and effective in practice in order to improve the public’s health. This motive drives all other outcomes.


  • Grubaugh J., Valentine J., Welch S., Mastronardi A. (March 2013). Evaluation of new centralized student process: Knox County Health Department Quality Improvement 2012. Tennessee Public Health Association East Grand Division Meeting. Sevierville, TN (poster).
  • Grubaugh J, Myers C, Knight M, Hamilton C, Amos K. Levels of community engagement in academic health departments. (April 2013).STTI Gamma Chi Inter-professional Healthcare Research Day, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Agricultural Campus (poster).
  • Myers, C.R., Knight, M., Amos, K., Hamilton, C., & Grubaugh, J. (April 2013). Level of community engagement in Academic Health Departments. 2013 Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR) Keeneland Conference, Lexington, KY(panel presentation).
  • Roberts M., Grubaugh J., Chavez-Lindell T., Allen J., Ridley J., Erwin P. (September 2013).  Public Health Summer Academy: A collaborative partnership between academicians and practitioners to ensure a competent public health workforce in East Tennessee.Tennessee Public Health Association Annual Conference. Franklin, TN (poster).
  • Brown, K., Myers, C.R., Grubaugh, J., Hancock, L., Persino, J., Barwlow, P., Tayman, A., & Dzialo, R. (September 2013). Why women miss appointments in a women’s health clinic: A research collaboration between public health practitioners & academicians. Tennessee Public Health Association Annual Conference. Franklin, TN (poster). [Poster won second place].
  • Grubaugh, J., Erwin, P., Valentine, J., Miller, M., Buchanan, M. A logic model for evaluating the academic health department. (April 2015).Keeneland Public Health Systems and Services Annual Conference, Lexington, KY (poster).
  • Grubaugh J., Valentine J., Hamilton C. Reflections from a boundary spanner coordinating an academic health department. (November 2013). American Public Health Association Annual Conference. Boston, MA (poster).


  • Erwin, P., McNeely, C., Grubaugh, J., Valentine, J., Miller, M., Buchanan, M. A Logic Model for Evaluating the Academic Health Department. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 2015 Feb 26. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 25723875
  • Knight MA, Kershenbaum AD, Buchanan M, Ridley J, Erwin PC. The Effects of the Changes in Section 317 Rules for Administration of Federally Purchased Vaccines. Frontiers in Public Health Services and Systems Research. 2014;3(2):Article 7.
  • Hamilton CB, Buchanan ML, Grubaugh JH, Erwin PC. Forming an academic health department: a case example. J Public Health Manag Pract. May-Jun 2014;20(3):304-309.
  • Erwin PC, Knight M, Graham J, et al. Data synthesis in community health assessment: practical examples from the field. J Public Health Manag Pract. Sep-Oct 2013;19(5):468-474.
  • Knight MA, Kershenbaum AD, Buchanan M, Ridley J, Erwin PC. The Effects of the State of Tennessee Immunization Policy Change of 2011 – 2012 on Vaccination Uptake in East Tennessee. Frontiers in Public Health Services and Systems Research. 2014;3(1):Article 4.

Resources for Forming an AHD