The disconnect between public health practice and its academic base has major implications for training and hiring the future public health workforce, for practice-based research, and ultimately for improving the public's health. To bridge this disconnect, the University of Tennessee Department of Public Health and the Knox County Health Department established an academic health department in early 2011 through a memorandum of understanding. This action followed a long history of informal collaborations, built on mutual trust. The memorandum of understanding identified the scope of academic health department activities, clarified responsibilities of each organization, and created a shared coordinator position. Accomplishments during the first 18 months include improving the efficiency and effectiveness of student field placements; establishing collaborative learning sessions delivered jointly by University of Tennessee Department of Public Health faculty and Knox County Health Department staff; and exploring opportunities for practice-based research. The shared coordinator position and an active steering committee are considered fundamental to achieving sustainable academic-practice linkages.