What is an Academic Health Department?
Just as teaching hospitals partner with universities to provide education and training to medical students, academic health departments partner with universities with accredited Schools of Public Health to educate and train future public health professionals. Academic health departments also conduct research, evaluate programs for effectiveness, publish in academic journals and provide a variety of benefits to their communities. Conducting and publishing research also assists with the health department’s accreditation.
Rigorous scientific data collection and evaluation improve programs and services at a health department. Collaboration with a university ensures that public health students are learning relevant, practical skills and that the health department stays current with new research. The university partnership also enables a health department to receive grants and funding that would otherwise be unavailable.
Louisville’s Academic Health Department
Under the direction of Academic Health Coordinator, Dr. Billie Castle Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW) became an Academic Health Department in September of 2018. LMPHW entered into a partnership with the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS). This partnership involves several shared appointments, meaning that some staff are employees of both LMPHW and UofL. LMPHW’s shared appointments include:
- Dr. Sarah Moyer, Director and Chief Health Strategist
- Dr. Leslie Wolf, Lab Director
- Dr. Billie Castle, Academic Health Coordinator
- Health Economist TBA
The work conducted by our academic health department benefits everyone in the community. Aside from training the next generation of public health practitioners, our academic health department also uses scientific methodology and data collection to improve the health of the entire community. Data is made available to the community at no charge so that hospitals, universities and community organizations can conduct their own research. Data and research can help the healthcare industry and elected officials invest wisely and better care for residents. When the health department publishes research in academic journals and presents at professional conferences, it raises our city’s national profile and reputation, which can aid in economic development.
As an academic health department, LMPHW offers a variety of student experiences for public health students including capstone, clinical rotations, community medicine rotations, internships, practicum and shadowing. Examples of available practicum projects can be found in our Practicum Project Handbook.
Some examples of completed student work include:
Please contact us if you are interested in a student experience.
Research and Innovation
As an academic health department, LMPHW conducts research and publishes in scientific journals. Often LMPHW presents cutting edge research at professional conferences. In just the first eight months as an academic health department, LMPHW presented 8 times at state and national conferences. LMPHW, in conjunction with UofL School of Public Health and Information Sciences, published an article in the American Journal of Public Health Practice examining social-ecological factors in developing LMPHW's Syringe Exchange Program. A list of presentations, publications and Op Eds can be found here.
At the 2019 annual conference of the Kentucky Public Health Association (KPHA), LMPHW gave four oral presentations and two poster presentations. One presentation, "Louisville's Inaugural Epidemiology Project", was later broadcast as a webinar. This legal epidemiology project was a collaboration between LMPHW, Temple University Law School and the CDC. It enabled staff to develop a new skillset which can be applied to future research analyzing the use of law and policy as a public health intervention.
Also at the conference, Communicable Disease Supervisor Rui Zhao won the KPHA Epidemiologist of the Year award. During 2018, Rui created a database to manage hepatitis A outbreak data, orchestrated the LMPHW response to a hepatitis A outbreak, mentored an intern and several medical students, instructed undergraduate students in an online course, and submitted several posters, including one which he presented at the conference. His team is currently working on assessing HCV burden and will be presenting a poster on assessing Hepatitis B case categorization through positive IgM Anti-Hbc results.
LMPHW’s Center for Health Equity was the first of its kind in municipal government when it was established in 2006 and remains at the forefront of population health, one of the core functions of public health. CHE uses current and historical data, scientific study and collaborations with community partners to examine how social determinants of health impact our community. One example of CHE’s work is a story map called Social Connections for Healthy Families which examines how root causes such as education level, socioeconomic status, employment, housing and neighborhood quality affect children’s brain development and health outcomes. In addition to early childhood, CHE’s Root Cause Teams are also examining and partnering with the community to understand food and the built environment, housing and economic development, environmental quality, criminal justice and social and cultural capital. CHE also provides health impact assessments, racial impact assessments, community health needs assessments and community health improvement plans to our community.
As Louisville’s academic health department matures, it will continue to build capacity and undertake more ambitious projects. Having a health economist on staff will open the doors to grants and projects which were previously out of reach. If your organization would like to collaborate on a research project, please contact Dr. Billie Castle.