Developing an Academic Health Department in Northeast Tennessee: An Innovative Approach Through Student Leadership

Document Type


Publication Date



In an effort to bridge the gap between public health practice and academia, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)-funded Tennessee Public Health Training Center (LIFEPATH) has supported establishment of an Academic Health Department (AHD) involving the East Tennessee State University (ETSU) College of Public Health (COPH) and the Sullivan County Regional Health Department (SCRHD). The SCRHD identified a need to increase internal capacity to conduct ongoing community health assessments and community-oriented practice. Similarly, the COPH recognized the need to expand field-based public health practice opportunities for students. Personnel from SCRHD, LIFEPATH, and COPH developed a formal AHD memorandum of understanding during the summer of 2012, launching the program in fall 2012. The COPH/SCRHD model addresses financial barriers experienced by other AHDs by competitively awarding the Coordinator position to a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) student from the COPH, demonstrating investment in the model by the COPH. The DrPH student gains valuable leadership experience through project management, coordination of the local health council, and day-to-day facilitation of undergraduate and master's student interns. SCRHD benefits from formally trained graduate-level interns dedicated to long-term work within the community. This AHD offers a unique opportunity for doctoral-level students to develop practical leadership skills in a functioning health department, while enhancing the capacity of SCRHD and COPH to serve their community and stakeholders.


Johnson City, TN