The Collaboratory

August 8, 2018

This fall we will be opening the Collaboratory, a 3,000 sq. ft. open project space located in the Lincoln Square building in Albany's South End. 

Collaboratory is a made-up word. It means a laboratory for collaboration. We seek to create a space where ACPHS can come together with community-based organizations and work creatively on issues of health care in our community. 

In launching the Collaboratory, we will continue our move out of the traditional ivory tower of academia and into the surrounding community. This is a process that began in earnest with the openings of our two student operated pharmacies in 2016 and 2017. An important part of this effort - as is the case with the pharmacies - is to provide our students with distinctive and valued experiences that transcend the classroom. Each of these moves reflects a fundamental belief that a college must be relevant to the everyday life of its community, not just by educating the next generation, but by being a neutral catalyst that facilitates community progress.

The Collaboratory will allow us to engage with the community in ways that few, if any, colleges and universities have done before. First, we are not moving into the community to do surveys and gather statistics for a study to be published in an academic journal. We are also not moving into the community because of our great expertise with an eye towards telling everyone what they should be doing. Rather, we are moving into the community as partners. We have much to learn from the community, and we seek to play a new role, one that leverages the youthful enthusiasm and energy of our students and the talents of our faculty. 

In the first Collaboratory project, our Department of Population Health Sciences will be partnering with Trinity Alliance, one of Albany's longstanding community-based organizations, to help residents navigate the complexities of the healthcare system and gain greater access to much needed health services. Department Chair Colleen McLaughlin has been working with Harris Oberlander, CEO of Trinity Alliance, to define specific outcomes for the joint project. 

Our public health students will play a key role in this effort, working alongside community health workers and gaining hands on experience in confronting the everyday aspects of the social determinants of health. 

The challenges presented by this project will require a new model of public health faculty involvement at this site. Taking a page from our clinical pharmacy model of experiential education, the Collaboratory will serve as a "clinical" site for public health that will provide students with opportunities to work directly with the community under the guidance of a faculty member.  

Confronting the social determinants of health is vitally important to creating healthy communities. The social determinants of health are all of the intrinsic conditions that shape our lives. They include economic stability, education, physical environment, food, employment, social networks, and access to healthcare. While healthcare is essential to a healthy community, it is a surprisingly weak component. Factors such as genetics, individual behavior, and social and environmental factors are often stronger determinants (see figure below).

Risk Factors Graph.png

Indeed, Bradley and Taylor in their book "The American Health Care Paradox" argue that the reason America is not as healthy as other developed countries despite spending much more on healthcare is that we do not put enough resources into the social determinants of health.

As we educate the next generation of health care professionals, we stress the importance of working in interprofessional teams to solve medical problems. This team-based approach allows individuals to appreciate and integrate other disciplines into medical problem solving. It also frees up each individual to truly work at the top of their profession. 

We now need to move beyond just a medical team and learn how to also incorporate individuals providing social services. At the Collaboratory, we have the opportunity to create such teams to coordinate health and social services and explore the effectiveness of such approaches.  

During my school years, I studied German. I always enjoyed the language, and I particularly liked the Germans' penchant for creating new words by stringing existing words together. 

My favorite German word is "nachmittagspaziergangmachen" (to take an afternoon walk). So I am comfortable with the Collaboratory - the laboratory for collaboration. It will allow us to explore new models of healthcare and social benefits while providing our students with an unparalleled educational experience.

Greg Dewey, Ph.D., is President of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

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