The Public Health Foundation recently conducted an election for the Chair of the Council on Linkages, and ACPM is pleased to see Bill Keck, MD, MPH, FACPM is continuing his leadership as Chair of the program. Dr. Keck, APHA representative to the Council on Linkages and Professor Emeritus, spent 40 years working in Public Health, primarily in an academic setting at Northeast Ohio Medical University, but his work went far beyond the classroom. His exploration of what could come of combining practice and academics ultimately lead to a new sector of public health and has helped the industry grow in a direction that has allowed for new modes of exploration and collaborative learning for public health professionals.
Dr. Keck’s career as a professor led him to teach in multiple settings at a variety of schools where his curriculum was always health-related. He first started exploring the idea of linking both practice and academic institutions when he was a Field Professor of Community Health Sciences at the University of Kentucky teaching medical students.
“My local project was to join 6 county health departments into a regional department - the Kentucky River District Health Department - and I was employed both by the medical school and the health department. I was then jointly recruited in 1976 by the then new Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and the Akron Health Department to work in both and to "bring them more closely together." The rest is history, I suppose,” said Keck, in regards to the journey he went through to develop Academic Health Departments, or AHDs.
Now a retired Director of Health, Dr. Keck’s primary focus is bringing awareness to AHDs, as they are not as prominent in the public health industry as many other departments and practices. He also is eager to assist anyone who wishes to adopt the model and continue bridging the gap between medical practices and academics, as they have proven to work together very well and allow for advances in public health research. Additionally, Dr. Keck is coming up on 11 years of ACPM membership with three of those years being a recognized fellow.
The Council on Linkages focuses on enhancing collaboration between academia and practice within public health, very similarly to AHDs. The public health workforce continues to strengthen thanks to the research and accomplishments by the 24 national public health and population health organizations and the members as well as the Public Health Foundation. That being said, congratulations to Bill Keck, MD, MPH on another term as the Council of Linkages Chair.
Questions to Dr. Keck
1.What drew you to preventive medicine?
“It was my experience as a Peace Corps Physician in Bolivia (1966-1969) that drew me to preventive medicine and public health. I went to Bolivia after finishing my first postgraduate year as an intern in internal medicine. My intention was to finish my postgraduate education in internal medicine after the Peace Corps and begin a career in academic medicine. My experience in Bolivia co-managing a tuberculosis control program in the Yungas region of that country using Peace Corps volunteers to prevent, diagnose, and treat tuberculosis in this region on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains opened my eyes to the potential for a preventive, public health approach to disease control. It made me question my original career choice, but also made clear how little I knew about public health. I came back to the U.S. after almost three years in Bolivia, finished my residency in internal medicine at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio, and realized I was drawn more to public health than clinical medicine. I went on to get an MPH degree at the Harvard School of Public Health in 1972 and took a position as a Field Professor of Community Health at the University of Kentucky, assigned to live and work in Hazard, Kentucky in Appalachia. While there, I helped to form and became the first director of the Kentucky River District Health Department, an organization formed by combining six county health departments into a single district. I was responsible for teaching medical students in both the community and the classroom, as well directing he health department – an early “teaching” of “academic” health department. In 1974 I passed my preventive medicine boards and in 1976 I was recruited to be the director of the Akron Health Department and develop a Division of Community Health Sciences at the then named Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, now the Northeastern Ohio Medical University. What followed was almost three decades of building an academic health department.”
2.What are you most excited about for your role as Council of Linkages Chair?
“There are several things that excite me about continuing to work with the Council on Linkages. The Council is staffed by the Public Health Foundation (PHF) and the opportunity to continue to interact with PHF’s President and CEO, Ron Bialek, and Kathleen Amos, Director of Academic/Practice Linkages is an ongoing pleasure. They are stellar public health professionals. The Council’s work, however, is the most important issue and I’m particularly proud of the work done to maintain, update and foster the use of the Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals (Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals (phf.org), and the Academic Health Department Learning Community (Academic Health Department Learning Community (phf.org) that was formed by the Council in January 2011 to support the development, maintenance, and expansion of formal affiliations of health departments and academic institutions.”
3.What do you think are the biggest challenges and biggest opportunities in public health?
“I’ve been retired as Akron’s Health Director for almost 20 years, so I need to be careful with this question because I can’t approach it as someone who is active in the field. For 10 to 15 years after the Institute of Medicine’s 1988 Report on the Future of Public Health the discipline went through a real philosophic renaissance that was largely unmatched by the organizational and financial changes that would allow public health agencies to actually improve health status to the degree that the new mission, strategies, and sense of purpose would suggest if resources were adequate to the task. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought public health resource limitations to light and clarified what price is paid by the absence of a real public health system that is adequately funded in this country. This challenge of how to build a better system has been exacerbated by the loss of public health personnel during the pandemic and an ever expanding public health agenda. A real opportunity is presented, however, by the substantial funding opportunity presented through the federal Strengthening U S Public Health Infrastructure, Workforce, and Data Systems program. Careful use of these monies focusing on building a better public health infrastructure focused on implementing the Public Health 3.0 (Public Health 3.0: A Call to Action to Create a 21st Century Public Health Infrastructure (naccho.org) suggested approach to public health services gives us the chance to make a real difference in the near future.”