The Academic Health Department (AHD) involves an arrangement between a governmental health agency and an academic institution, which provides mutual benefits in teaching, service, research, and practice. From its initial development in the mid-1980s as the public health equivalent of the relationship between a teaching hospital and a medical school, the AHD concept has evolved to include multiple levels of governmental public health agencies (local, state, and federal) as well as multiple academic institutions (public health, medicine, and primary care medical residencies). Throughout the decade of the 2000s, multiple influences have impacted both the quality and quantity of AHDs, leading to an expansion of AHDs through the Council on Linkages' AHD Learning Community. The value of the AHD - as described from prior studies as well as the AHD case examples in this current special issue - is evident in its impact on the quality of educational experiences and workforce development, agency and academic accreditation, practice-based research, and the potential to influence health reform. Copyright © 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.