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Celebrating 60 years of firsts

health science center 1960sSixty years ago, the College of Public Health and Health Professions charted a new course, becoming the first college of its kind housed in an academic health center.

Before 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 founding dean Darrel J. Mase, Ph.D., noted while touring allied health programs in the early 1950s.

Mase was working with UF leaders on plans for the university’s new health center and he suggested these health professions be housed in their own college. The concept fit in well with the center’s vision for interdisciplinary education. The idea leaders touted was, “If we train them together, perhaps they’ll work together.”

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 of Health Related Services opened with departments in medical technology, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Several more joined within the decade and the college quickly became a national model for health professions education. Within 15 years, more than 70 colleges like it had been founded across the U.S.

Over the decades, the college would log many other firsts in education, research and service. 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. 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.

“In 1958 the college opened its doors with just 10 faculty and 15 students, and over the ensuing decades it made enormous strides,” said Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the college. “Sixty years later, the college is known and respected for its leadership in education and research and for its contributions toward improving the health of individuals and communities, locally, nationally and globally.”