Sixty years ago, the College of Health Related Services charted a new course, becoming the first college of its kind housed in an academic health center. Over the decades, the college would log many other firsts in education, research and service at the state, national and international levels.
Start of something big
Before January 1958, disciplines such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and rehabilitation counseling often did not have a true home in most universities. Typically tucked away in hospitals and medical schools, these programs often existed in their own silos, a fact Darrel J. Mase, Ph.D., noted while touring the nation’s allied health programs in the early 1950s.
Then coordinator for UF’s Florida Center of Clinical Services and working with UF leaders on plans for the university’s new health center, Mase suggested these health professions be housed in their own UF college. The concept fit in well with the vision for the health center, which aimed to train students from the health disciplines together. The idea leaders touted was, “If we train them together, perhaps they’ll work together.”
However, not everyone was on board with Mase’s idea — at first. Some faculty and campus leaders did not think the disciplines should be offered by the university and that the curriculum was not rigorous enough to meet the university’s standards.
But Mase persisted and in 1958, the college opened with three departments: medical technology, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Several departments and programs joined within the decade and the college quickly became a national model for coordinated health professions education. Within 15 years, more than 70 colleges like it had been founded across the United States.
Era of discovery and learning
In 1976, Lela Llorens, Ph.D., was named chair of occupational therapy and is believed to be the first African American OT chair in the country. She also became a renowned researcher in mental health and learning problems in children.
During the 1970s and 1980s, under the deanships of Howard Suzuki, Ph.D., and Richard Gutekunst, Ph.D., research became a greater priority for the college and several faculty made critical advances in their fields.
Kenneth Bzoch, Ph.D., chair of communicative disorders, developed the Receptive-Expressive Emergent Language, or REEL, scale, the first comprehensive test to help pinpoint language problems in young children and measure language gains after treatment.
Peter Lang, Ph.D., a pioneer in behavior modification therapies to treat fear and anxiety disorders, joined clinical psychology as the college’s first graduate research professor.
In 1985, Joseph Kemker, Ph.D., and Alice Holmes, Ph.D., associate professors in communicative disorders, were instrumental in the first cochlear implantation in the Southeast. After a UF surgeon implanted the device, Kemker and Holmes spent months fine tuning it and teaching the patient to use it effectively.
Educational programs were booming, too. With a $585,000 grant from the Veterans Administration, the college established Florida’s first bachelor’s degree in health science. And college leaders had their eyes on more.
“I believe there is a role for our college in public health education and graduate education, and hope to see the day when there is funding for a graduate program in public health,” Gutekunst said in 1983. “There obviously is a need for this type of program in Florida, and the potential for offering a quality program at this university is unlimited.”
When Robert G. Frank, Ph.D., arrived as dean in 1995, he needed a big idea to acquire resources to grow the college. He challenged the faculty to ambitiously boost grant funding. They responded by deciding to compete for even more funding than what Frank suggested.
“We were in a very successful university where quality alone wasn’t always enough to get you noticed because there was so much success everywhere,” Frank said. “UF was rapidly increasing research. In that environment we had to really reach for the stars.”
Within 18 months, the college exceeded its goal. Researchers went from $1.5 million in funding at the start of Frank’s deanship to more than $10 million by the end of his tenure in 2007.
Clinical and health psychology professor Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., now dean of the college, studied the cardiovascular effects of behavioral interventions targeting diet, exercise and weight loss.
Paul Duncan, Ph.D., chair of health services research, management and policy, and colleagues conducted analyses of Florida’s sweeping Medicaid reform plan.
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, the behavioral treatment developed by Sheila Eyberg, Ph.D., a professor of clinical and health psychology, was named a best practice for helping children who have been abused.
William Mann, Ph.D., chair of occupational therapy, led the National Older Driver Research and Training Center, the first research and clinical center dedicated to driving rehabilitation and safety for mature drivers.
In the 2000s, the college underwent a major transformation, restructuring the college to add new faculty, departments and doctoral programs in public health, and becoming the College of Public Health and Health Professions.
Next level and beyond
The college is now home to 20 degree programs, more than 2,300 students and more than 300 faculty and staff members across eight departments. Research funding has increased more than 300 percent from $13 million in 2007 to $45 million in 2017.
In 2015, the World Health Organization announced a huge breakthrough in the control of West Africa’s Ebola epidemic — a vaccine that was 100 percent effective. Ira Longini, Ph.D., a professor of biostatistics, was at this effort’s forefront, working with WHO on the vaccine trial’s design and analysis.
In 2011, the college established a public health laboratory in Haiti to identify and contain infectious disease outbreaks. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn attended the opening. The following year, the department of environmental and global health established the world’s first academic programs in One Health, which brings together public, veterinary and environmental health.
Krista Vandenborne, Ph.D., chair of physical therapy, conducts groundbreaking research on the use of MRI to track Duchenne muscular dystrophy disease progression and response to drug therapies.
Robert Cook, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of epidemiology and medicine, directs the Southern HIV and Alcohol Research Consortium, which fosters research to improve health outcomes for people with HIV.
Studies by Arch Mainous III, Ph.D., chair of health services research, management and policy, are shedding light on the prevalence and risk factors of prediabetes in healthy weight adults.
Clinical and health psychology professor Dawn Bowers, Ph.D., and chair Glenn Smith, Ph.D., lead research and clinical interventions to lessen the impact of cognitive changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Full accreditation for PHHP’s public health component in 2009, under Dean Michael Perri’s leadership, has led to a significant expansion of activities in support of its mission,” said David Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health. “The college has become a vibrant environment for research, education and community service in a cross-cutting array of public health and health professions fields that make it a model for the nation.”