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Integrating Public Health Education in a Public Health Practice Setting: The Experience of the School of Public Health, University at Albany and the New York State Department of Health

Birkhead, Guthrie S. MD, MPH; Eidson, Millicent MA, DVM, DACVPM (Epi); Dewar, Diane PhD; Nasca, Philip PhD; Morse, Dale L. MD, MS; Shah, Nirav R. MD, MPH

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: May/June 2014 - Volume 20 - Issue 3 - p 278–284
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e31829a4d73
Original Articles

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) has a long history of biomedical research, public health policy and program development, peer-reviewed scholarship, and teaching. Its evolution as an academic health department advanced significantly when the University at Albany and DOH formed the School of Public Health Sciences in 1985 to further develop these functions while formally training the next generation of public health workers. The School, renamed in 1990 as the School of Public Health (SPH), was initially located within the DOH with its staff as the founding faculty. The curriculum was heavily influenced by public health practice imperatives. The SPH has evolved to have an independent campus and full-time academic faculty, but the DOH remains closely linked. The relationship is governed by a memorandum of understanding that commits both partners to provide substantial and continuing resources to the SPH. The SPH brings value to the DOH's mission to improve the health of the state's citizens by providing an academic focus to problems faced in health department practice settings. The opportunity to teach and be involved in an academic environment increases the DOH's ability to recruit, retain, and improve the skill level of its professional and scientific staff and thereby improve its ability to assess health problems and to design and evaluate public health programs. The SPH also provides training and support to county health departments and nongovernment organizations, which further the DOH's mission, through continuing education programs and an online MPH degree program. International exchanges including those with China, Vietnam, and the Republic of Georgia have enriched the academic environment. Challenges include maintaining sufficient full-time faculty members, the need for the SPH to take on broader public health issues than those applicable to New York, and the shrinkage of the DOH's workforce and departure of many senior scientists who served as faculty.

This article describes the development and current state of the unique academic health department model in New York focusing on the mutual benefits as well as exploring the challenges and future opportunities for improvement.

New York State Department of Health, Albany, New York (Drs Birkhead, Eidson, and Shah); the School of Public Health, University at Albany, Rensselaer, New York (Drs Birkhead, Eidson, Dewar, Nasca, Morse, and Shah); and the Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta, Georgia (Dr Morse).

Correspondence: Guthrie S. Birkhead, MD, MPH, New York State Department of Health, Room No. 1415, Corning Tower, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12237 (

G.S.B. and M.E. are the co-first authors.

The views expressed in this article are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the authors’ agencies.

The authors thank School of Public Health faculty and New York State Department of Health staff for providing information and assessments on the partnership.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.