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University at Buffalo Celebrating a Half-Century of Health Professions Teaching and Research

When Dale Fish interviewed for a teaching position in what was then UB’s School of Health Related Professions in the mid-1970s, the dean’s office was in Diefendorf Annex on the South Campus and some classes were taught in houses along Winspear Avenue.

Over the course of his career at UB, Fish was in a unique position to watch the school evolve from a fledgling entity into what it is today: the venerable School of Public Health and Health Professions, which this fall is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of its former School of Health Related Professions.

“We had very modest beginnings,” says Fish, who was associated with the school for 40 of its 50 years. He retired in January as SPHHP’s senior associate dean for academic and student affairs. “In the early days, our digs were very limited. I taught in the basement of one of those houses on Winspear. The taller students had to duck walking down the stairs,” he recalls.

“It is remarkable to see how far the school has come since its first inception. Now with its expanded focus, the future is even brighter and I look forward to seeing what we can become in the next 50 years,” says Jean Wactawski-Wende, SPHHP’s current dean and a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health.

The New York State Board of Trustees approved the school’s creation on Oct. 14, 1965. Three existing departments at UB — Medical Technology, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy — formed the nucleus of the new school, according to a history compiled by Mildred F. Heap, a former director of UB’s physical therapy program.

Albert C. Rekate, a faculty member in the then-School of Medicine, was named acting dean. A year later, J. Warren Perry, a nationally renowned figure and the first allied health professional elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, was appointed dean. The school was formally dedicated on May 1, 1967.

Over the years, the school’s faculty and students have contributed a wealth of groundbreaking research. Highlights include the ongoing Women’s Health Initiative, the world’s largest-ever tobacco use study, breakthroughs in cancer research, and foundational work in rehabilitation, exercise and nutritional sciences, to list just a few.

Peter Regan, who was vice president for health affairs at the time, recruited Lawrence Cappiello from the University of Nebraska to help build the framework for the new school. Creating the new school sent a message that the university was making big changes in its new SUNY era.

“It also gave integrity to the three programs that formed the school’s foundation. It signaled that they were as important to the university as medicine, dentistry and so on,” says Cappiello.

When it was formed in the 1960s, UB’s was one of only a handful of health-related professions schools in the U.S. “It was a very exciting time,” Cappiello recalls. “Warren Perry had been a key player in Washington, D.C., in what is now the Department of Health and Human Services. UB attained a great deal of national attention when he was hired as dean. A lot of graduates went on to become deans at other health professions schools around the country. Similar schools started to proliferate and, at one point, the majority of deans at those schools had been protégés of Warren Perry,” he adds.

Plenty has changed over the years. That’s especially evident in the tools used in the classroom. “We used to have exams typed by secretaries,” Fish remembers. “I couldn’t lecture without a yellow note pad in my hand when I first started teaching. By the end, we had animations and PowerPoints that were quite beautiful.”

And while names like Regan, Rekate and Perry stand out, there are just too many other people to name without inevitably forgetting a few. “It’s a small school, but it has a cast of thousands of people who care about it and have a history with it,” Fish says.

Annual lecture series continues founding dean’s legacy

Perry had a profound impact on the School of Health Related Professions and the community. His legacy lives on through the annual J. Warren Perry Lecture, established in 1989 by then-dean Alan Stull. The lectureship introduces students, faculty and staff to some of the best leaders and scholars in a variety of fields, including public health, health professions or health sciences.

This year’s Perry Lecture, scheduled for 3:30 to 5 p.m. Nov. 6, features Donna Petersen, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida and senior vice president of USF Health. Petersen’s talk is titled “Material and Child Health: The ‘New’ Population Health.”

For those who can’t attend, it will be streamed live and available afterward on YouTube.