BLOUNTVILLE (January 22, 2013) – The East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, the statewide public health training center housed within the college and the Sullivan County Regional Health Department have formed a unique partnership to raise the levels of public health practice, workforce training and research throughout the region.
Local and state health officials joined representatives from ETSU, the health department and the ETSU-based public health training center known as LIFEPATH to announce details of the new Sullivan County Academic Health Department (SCAHD) during a news conference Friday, Jan.18, at the Sullivan County Regional Health Department.
This new partnership essentially unites the expertise of public health academia with the expertise of public health practice. Each brings something different and essential to the table to form SCAHD.
Through SCAHD, the College of Public Health and LIFEPATH gain opportunities for students to receive hands-on training. And, in turn, the health department gains greater access to the research and program assessment tools available at ETSU.
Though academic health departments have been established elsewhere, SCAHD is believed to be the first in the nation where a doctoral student serves in the leadership role as coordinator. The doctoral student serving as coordinator at SCAHD, Christian Williams, is in her second year in the college’s doctor of public health degree program, and she plans a career in public health department leadership.
Gary Mayes, director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, said this bridge between academic public health and public health practice will benefit residents throughout Northeast Tennessee.
“This is a win-win for our citizens and promotes our mission at the Sullivan County Regional Health Department,” Mayes said.
Paula Masters is executive director of LIFEPATH, the Volunteer State’s only federally-funded public health training center. The creation of SCAHD, Masters said, dovetails with its mission to provide training opportunities for the public health workforce in Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Masters pointed out that the national percentage of public health workers who will be eligible for retirement will rise from 18 percent in 2010 to 27 percent by 2014. Around that same time, 30 to 40 percent of employees working in Tennessee’s health departments will be eligible to retire.
“It’s important that we provide training resources for today’s public health workers, while also preparing today’s students to be tomorrow’s practitioners,” Masters said. “Our region’s first academic health department will provide the Sullivan County Regional Health Department with resources to advance evidence-based practices and initiatives, and our students will receive true, hands-on practice and leadership experiences.”
Dr. Wilsie Bishop, ETSU’s vice president for Health Affairs and university chief operating officer, said the school is excited to partner with an organization that will benefit the community.
“Interprofessional collaboration is an integral thread in the fabric of health care teaching and learning at ETSU,” Bishop said. “The Sullivan County Academic Health Department will serve as another testament to the power of interprofessional collaboration, to its power to raise the level of health care we deliver and, ultimately, the overall health of the people we serve.”
Dr. John Dreyzehner, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, expects to see more academic health departments in the future. ETSU and LIFEPATH have indeed begun discussions with the Northeast Regional Health Office to form another such department.
“Public health is a team sport, but too often practitioners and academics are playing on different fields,” Dreyzehner said. “Academic health departments create an opportunity for academics and practitioners to move the population health improvement ball together in a way that is a triple win for departments, for academics and their students and for the health and prosperity of Tennessee.
“We are delighted that Sullivan County and the ETSU College of Public Health have partnered and we look forward to more such opportunities.”