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Cherokee Health Systems Partnership

UT Partners with Cherokee Health Systems to Improve Education and Research

The University of Tennessee (UT) has entered an innovative research and education partnership with Cherokee Health Systems (CHS). In developing this academic-practice partnership with a top regional healthcare provider, UT looks to enhance student training, provide high-impact research opportunities, and enhance the university’s community impact.

UT CHS Partnership Group PhotoIt all started with a conversation between, Hollie Raynor, Associate Dean for Research at the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS) and Deborah Crawford, Vice Chancellor for Research at UT. Crawford wanted to bring forward a focus on human health to campus, and Raynor saw Cherokee Health as a great partner to make that focus a reality.

“I think it is exciting for the two organizations to enter into a more formalized relationship,” said Raynor. “Prior to this, the work between CHS and UT has generally been conducted by individual faculty. This formalized relationship will allow a more comprehensive, strategic partnership to develop, which will allow us to partner together to more greatly impact the health of Tennesseans.”

CHS provides a vast array of services to 15 counties in East Tennessee and Shelby County in West Tennessee. According to CHS data, nearly 70 percent of clientele are either uninsured or are TennCare recipients, while 14% are Medicare beneficiaries. Between 2018 and 2021, CHS has served nearly 110,000 patients from underserved communities in the area.

The UT-CHS partnership provides numerous growth opportunities through engaged teaching, research, and service. For example, within CEHHS, the Department of Nutrition partners with CHS, so the students can provide nutrition counseling to CHS clients. This provides an opportunity for students to apply skills in a real-world setting, while providing an extended service to CHS clients that can be helpful in reducing health disparities.

Service to the community plays an important role in the land grant mission of UT. “First and foremost, as a land grant institution, we need to be making a direct and positive impact on the community with our work,” said Ellen McIntyre, dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. “We do it in partnership with sophisticated organizations like Cherokee Health. The research and teaching that come with it are great for us at UT.”

With the memorandum of understanding between UT and CHS, a working group with representation from both organizations will get together and begin to develop strategic initiatives, which will allow both sides to gain greater ability to achieve their missions. Both organizations are looking forward to a long-term partnership that utilizes research, teaching, and service for long-term, sustainable community engagement and impact.

“We need to make an impact on our community, and this is a really important way to do it,” said McIntyre. “It’s really important that we just don’t do a project and come in and leave, but that we have the ability to do really long-term projects and long-term sustainability in our partnership work.”

Through its eight departments and 12 centers, the UT Knoxville College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences enhances the quality of life for all through research, outreach, and practice. Find out more at

Featured in group photo left to right:
Thankam Sunil, UT Department of Public Health head
RJ Hinde, UT Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
John Zomchick, UT Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor
Mike Caudle, clinical professor, UT Graduate School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Dennis Freeman, psychologist and CHS Chief Executive Officer
Tyvi Small, UT Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement
Deborah Crawford, UT Vice Chancellor for Research
Sandra Greear, CHS Faculty Coordinator
Parinda Khatri, CHS Chief Executive Officer
Brad Day, UT Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Initiatives
Donde Plowman, UT Knoxville Chancellor
Eboni Winford, CHS Director of Research and Health Equity
Hollie Raynor, Associate Dean of Research, UT College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences
Joel Hornberger, CHS Chief Strategy Officer
Marc Gibson, UT Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Director, Division of Partnerships and Economic Development
Andy Rhea, CHS Chief Information Officer