WVU School of Public Health students Jessica Messenger and Marloes Zieren learn about radiation detection and personal protective equipment from Joe Klass, MCHD threat preparedness specialist. (Photo courtesy of the Monongalia County Health Department)

WVU, Monongalia County Health Department establish Academic Health Department to enhance public health training, research and service

Top-tier training, research and service opportunities will remain at the forefront for students in the School of Public Health as West Virginia University and the Monongalia County Health Department establish an Academic Health Department, reinforcing the School’s commitment to give students learning experiences based in real-world public health practice.

School of Public Health Dean Jeffrey Coben says the concept of academic health departments has been around for several years, emerging as practitioners began to think about the future of public health.

“There are local, regional and state health departments that are all actively practicing public health, then you have schools and universities training people in public health for future careers, but those entities aren’t always linked formally,” Coben said. “The idea of forming an Academic Health Department is to join forces between the practice and academic components of public health.”

In addition to providing students experiential learning opportunities, faculty are also given the opportunity to work with MCHD staff.

While the establishment of the Academic Health Department is new – made official with the signing of a formal agreement by WVU Health Sciences Center and MCHD leaders on Oct. 31 – the collaborative efforts between the two organizations are not, as noted by Executive Director and County Health Officer Dr. Lee B. Smith

“We are thrilled to have achieved this designation,” Smith said. “This is the fruition of four years’ work that began with building relationships with various WVU colleges and schools, including the Schools of Public Health, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy and the College of Law.”

For instance, the School of Public Health places two interns and two graduate students at the MCHD each semester and throughout the summer, respectively.

“The reality is the vast majority of the scope of activities outlined in the signed agreement are already underway and have been for a while,” Coben added. “We are just codifying it more than anything else, moving it from being a common understanding to a formalized agreement, reflecting our promise to continue working together to meet the needs of our community.”

The West Virginia University School of Public Health is dedicated to improving the quality of life for West Virginians and all who call Appalachia home. As the only accredited public health program in the state, the School is home to undergraduate and graduate programs in various public health disciplines at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.

Guided by a vision of “healthy people in a healthy environment,” the mission of the Monongalia County Health Department is to strive to achieve a healthy community by protecting and promoting public health through education, training, advocacy and the provision of health services.

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