Since its founding in 1958, the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions has led the way in health education. The College of Health Related Services, as the college was first called, was conceived of as part of a health center that would encompass prevention and health promotion. The first dean of the college, Darrel Mase, Ph.D., brought together emerging health professions disciplines in one college, and integrated that college into the newly formed UF Health Science Center. It was this integrated approach that caught the attention of the father of rehabilitative medicine, Howard Rusk, M.D. In a New York Times article, Rusk praised the new college as the first in the nation in which “these various skills are blended together to provide a total approach to human problems.”
The first departments in the new college–occupational therapy, physical therapy, and medical technology–answered critical needs in the southeastern United States. The Department of Occupational Therapy, founded with just five faculty and three students, formally educated therapists who could work with World War II veterans with injuries. In the 1950s, physical therapists were highly sought after to provide rehabilitation to patients with polio and veterans with disabilities. Before the UF Department of Physical Therapy was established, the nearest program in the Southeast was 500 miles away at Duke University. Medical Technology was a burgeoning field that used modern diagnostic tools to provide urgent answers to physicians.
The success of the college is evident in its rapid growth. Not only did the departments of occupational and physical therapy quickly develop into model programs for other universities, the college soon added new departments. In 1959, the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling joined the college, making UF the first university in the Southeast, and one of the first in the nation, to provide graduate education in rehabilitation counseling. In 1962, the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology was established, bringing to the college a groundbreaking approach to psychology education. The doctorate program emphasized research and clinical training opportunities, which were then a scarcity in the field.
The Department of Communicative Disorders was granted department status in 1964. This department housed a speech and hearing clinic, conducted clinical research, and provided graduate courses. UF faculty helped bring revolutionary advancements to their patients, including new hearing aid technology and cochlear implants. In the late 1960s, health care in the United States was changing dramatically. With the advent of Medicaid and Medicare and the emergence of complicated health insurance programs, trained health administrators were in high demand. In 1979, the graduate program in health services administration became a department.
The college’s history in establishing pioneering programs that address the challenges facing individuals and communities is carried forward by the most recent developments at the college. In 2003, the college became the College of Public Health and Health Professions, and in 2009 was accredited as a school of public health. The Department of Rehabilitation Counseling was renamed the Department of Behavioral Science and Community Health to reflect the department’s expanded research efforts, particularly in the area of community health, in 2006. In that same year, the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics was established, and in 2010 it was divided into two departments that are jointly administered by the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine. These two departments offer avenues to explore health in broad populations through collaborative research efforts and community-based service. Also in 2010, the Department of Environmental and Global Health was added, making a total of nine departments in the college.
In just over 50 years, the college has grown from providing three degree programs to 15 students to offering two undergraduate majors, six certificates, six master’s, and nine doctorates to more than 2,100 enrolled students. The college’s founding chairs were among the first in their fields to answer the need for robust research in the health professions, and this dedication to advancing knowledge has been realized in today’s College of Public Health and Health Professions. The college routinely ranks first or second among colleges of health professions in NIH funding, and in its fiscal year 2010-2011 was granted $19.2 million in research support. The College of Public Health and Health Professions is the leader of a new education model, one that integrates public health and health professions disciplines. This novel approach pairs the community-based focus associated with public health with expertise in chronic conditions and individual patient care, opening up new opportunities for collaboration that will continue to impact health education and the nation’s health for years to come.