Community engagement (CE) and community-engaged research (CEnR) are increasingly viewed as the keystone to translational medicine and improving the health of the nation. In this article, the authors seek to assist academic health centers (AHCs) in learning how to better engage with their communities and build a CEnR agenda by suggesting five steps: defining community and identifying partners, learning the etiquette of CE, building a sustainable network of CEnR researchers, recognizing that CEnR will require the development of new methodologies, and improving translation and dissemination plans. Health disparities that lead to uneven access to and quality of care as well as high costs will persist without a CEnR agenda that finds answers to both medical and public health questions. One of the biggest barriers toward a national CEnR agenda, however, are the historical structures and processes of an AHC-including the complexities of how institutional review boards operate, accounting practices and indirect funding policies, and tenure and promotion paths. Changing institutional culture starts with the leadership and commitment of top decision makers in an institution. By aligning the motivations and goals of their researchers, clinicians, and community members into a vision of a healthier population, AHC leadership will not just improve their own institutions but also improve the health of the nation-starting with improving the health of their local communities, one community at a time.
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