Collage of UC Davis School of Medicine archival photos, celebrating 50 years

Peter Barry, Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

I had the great fortune to start my career at UC Davis when I was hired fresh out of graduate school as a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Cardiff, professor and chair of what was then called the Department of Pathology. I was fortunate because the Department of Pathology had a rich and vibrant heritage of research and clinical excellence in experimental pathology, beginning with the first chair of the department, Dr. Robert Stowell, in 1967.

I had the consummate benefit of being directly mentored by both Drs. Cardiff and Murray Gardner, the department chair immediately prior to Dr. Cardiff, both of whom had unparalleled legacies of research in infectious diseases and cancer. I was a ‘kid in a candy store’ with daily lessons (tough love sometimes) in pushing the envelope of science and not being afraid to challenge dogma when dogma needed a kick in the backside. I learned firsthand the mysteries, challenges, and excitement of research topics covering virology, immunology and the pathologic bases of disease.

This approach to learning was further fostered by the critical leadership decisions of the subsequent chairs, Drs. Ralph Green and Lydia Howell, who emphasized and facilitated the synergies afforded through the nexus of clinical and research opportunities. Collectively, they opened the doors for me to develop my own research program that could have been accomplished nowhere else but at UC Davis, which has an unparalleled constellation of centers of excellence.

The technical, physical, and intellectual infrastructures on this campus are unique, and to this day, I find myself absolutely amazed at all that is going on at UC Davis. One salient example of this is my being selected for a faculty position in the newly developed Center for Comparative Medicine (CCM) in 1998, a joint research center of the Schools of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, and which had the great fortune to have Dr. Stephen Barthold as its first director.

Dr. Barthold is a DVM who conducted seminal studies on the agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorfori, and he embraced CCM’s central mission of using the strength of animal models for better understanding, prevention and treatment of human diseases. Dr. Barthold developed an incredibly talented and efficient administrative staff allowing the faculty to focus on developing their scientific programs.

It was only in this environment where my lab could make a choice of starting a nonhuman primate (NHP) model of cytomegalovirus persistence and pathogenesis, leveraging the development of CMV disease in monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, into a new and unique model for CMV. As a side note highlighting the connections between human and animal diseases and the importance of experimental pathology in elevating the human and veterinary condition, Dr. Stowell served as chair of the Department of Pathology until 1969, when he was appointed director of the CNPRC.

In sum, I was in the right place at the right time when I was first out of grad school, green and wet behind the ears, to collectively build a team-driven research program on this campus that progressed to the cusp of changing clinical approaches for a variety of infectious diseases, ranging from CMV to HIV to Ebola. My start in the School of Medicine at UC Davis is but one example what our One Health approach to medicine can offer: local research with global impact.

F. William Blaisdell, M.D.

UC Davis 1978

I was chief of surgery at San Francisco General Hospital in 1978 when I received a call from the dean’s office at UC Davis inviting me to visit as a candidate for the divisional chief of surgical sciences.

I said thank you, but I am not interested in leaving my present job. Shortly thereafter I received several phone calls from fellow surgeons in Sacramento pleading with me to at least visit and look at the position.

I said no, I wasn’t interested in going to a family practice medical school as that is what those of us at UCSF perceived it to be. It surely was not interested in developing a strong surgical department.

I remember Jack Palmer, then chair of urology, was especially adamant: “Not true Bill; you’ve got to see for yourself.” So, reluctantly I made the trip and was received warmly by the search committee, led by Bob Bolt, chair of medicine, who arranged interviews for me the next day. The first, at my request, was the chief of family practice, Bill Burr. I said, “You must be very happy here. You have a unique position in this school. All the resources you could possibly need, I suspect.”

With that he rose in his chair, his face flushed—“Scam, scam,” he said. “Do you know how many FTE’s I have? Not as many as your general surgery section; what’s more your anesthesia section alone has nine FTE’s, the same as I have!”

What I came to realize was that the founding chancellor of UC Davis, Emile Mrak, had sold the medical school to the legislature as one that would be designed to train family doctors, and when the funding for the new medical school was passed by the Legislature, John Tupper was recruited from Michigan as dean. The two like-minded entrepreneurs went into collusion and the demanded money for multiple FTE’s from the Legislature to support the new school. When later challenged by the recruitment and development of all the medical and surgical specialties, they justified these on the basis of the need to expose their family doctor students to the full range of medical care.

What sold me on UC Davis was that this was truly a complete school. I found that the specialties of surgery including ENT, eye, neurosurgery, orthopedics, plastic and urology all had the same or more FTE’s than did the corresponding specialties at UCSF. Only general surgery, which included thoracic surgery, was deficient by comparison.

Wow! This far exceeded anything I was led to believe from afar, and as I checked general surgery, I found that it had hardly been used yet. Earl Wolfman was its chief, as well as the head of the Division of Surgical Sciences, which included not only the above-mentioned specialties but also anesthesia and pathology. He was kept so busy recruiting and organizing the new medical school that he had little time to devote to general surgery, his nominal specialty, or what’s more, perform actual surgery. The Department of Surgery had one associate professor and the rest were junior assistant professors, only one of which had academic training and looked like a keeper.

The other interesting thing was that all the specialties of surgery carried the title of Departments. What Dean Tupper had done was set up a divisional system — the Divisions of Basic Science, Medical Specialties and Surgical Specialties. The minor specialty chiefs could all be recruited as department heads. In most schools this meant they communicated directly with the dean. Here they had an intervening divisional head. This title, “department chair,” facilitated recruitment for a new school that had no physical resources yet, only access to the local county hospital and the VA Hospital in Martinez, California.

Although I was recruited as divisional head, I refused to accept that position, recognizing that the specialty departments wanted full recognition in their own right. I planned to devote my time and attention to building up general surgery and needed resources to do so, but if I obtained these as divisional head, it would be perceived that I might be cheating the subspecialties.

I recommended that the divisional head be elected for a two-year term by the department heads, assuming that one of them would assume responsibility in rotation. Instead they elected a dunderhead, an assistant chief of neurosurgery, who could be simply ignored. The dean had enough of him almost immediately and abolished the position.

In 1978 UC Davis had just purchased the County hospital, with a contract specifying that UC Davis must assume responsibility for all indigent care for the subsequent ten years. They had recruited an outstanding administrator named Robert Smith, who I was impressed with and who had ambitious plans for conversion of the hospital to a full university complex. Plans for building a new hospital addition were underway. As part of his recruitment he had been promised his own fundraising service to help facilitate his expansion plans.

Unfortunately for his and his new plans, Mrak had reached the obligatory retirement age of 65 and a new Davis chancellor had been appointed, Jim Meyer. Meyer’s personality was the opposite of Mrak, who had built the new university from the cow college part of UC Berkeley, to a new university campus with engineering, law and most recently a medical school. Meyer’s object was to “hunker down,” make no waves, don’t attack the Legislature for funds as Mrak and Tupper had been want to do. He seemed to dislike the medical school from the start, took away commitments made to Smith during the latter’s recruitment, including independent fund raising options, so that a year after I arrived Smith left in disgust. Tupper was relieved of his duties as dean and chaos ensued. A few months after his appointment a new acting dean died of cardiac arrest during his running exercise on a hot day. It was two years before things began to stabilize with Hibbard William’s recruitment as dean in the latter part of 1980.

Then in 1981 lightning struck again. This time over the cardiac surgery and renal transplant programs, but that is another story!

Ann Bonham, Ph.D.

Executive Associate Dean Emerita and Professor Emerita

I came to UC Davis School of Medicine as an assistant professor and left 20 years later as a professor and executive associate dean. UC Davis gave me unending School of Medicine opportunities — in research, in teaching, in professional development and in leadership. Just as importantly, it gave me a sense of family, friends and home.

When I left UC Davis to become the chief scientific officer at the AAMC, I had the privilege to visit many universities and medical schools and to talk to faculty and students. I was reminded over and over that UC Davis School of Medicine is a special place for collaboration, for respect of others, for diversity and for a commitment to the community.

During my time at the School of Medicine, I recall three significant events that made UC Davis Health and the school what it is today:

  1. The school was one of the very first institutions to win a coveted Clinical and Translational Science Award from the NIH, one of only 6 or 7 institutions as I recall. It launched a new era in medical research at UC Davis; led by the School of Medicine, again it reflected a partnership with the vet school, biological sciences, engineering and others.
  2. The school competed and won a $100 million grant to launch the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, establishing a new model for nursing education and leadership.
  3. The school was one of 13 institutions to receive an innovative new research training model for integrating medicine into research in biomedical research laboratories from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It was called the “Med into Grad.”

All of these were made possible through collaborations and partnerships - what really makes UC Davis what it is today. Congratulations to UC Davis School of Medicine and thanks for my experiences there.

Peter M. Cala, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair Emeritus, Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology

I joined the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine in late summer 1976, a few months shy of my 29th birthday. My first laboratory was located in a temporary building off Bioletti Way. At the time I joined the faculty [in what was then the Dept. of Human Physiology], my long-term plan was to establish my career in Davis and then move back to the Northeast. Yet, from the beginning, I found the School of Medicine to be a delightful place to work. The faculty was of high quality, highly collaborative and collegial. I came to believe that UC Davis was a sleeping giant and decided that this was a good place to live and work; the plan changed, and I was committed to the school (39 years on the faculty and 19 as department chair)!

Despite the high quality faculty, the “college town” feel of Davis and the ability of the university to expand, unlike the other UC campuses of the time, UC Davis seemed to suffer from it its own sense of inferiority due to its humble beginnings as UC Berkeley’s agricultural campus, and we chugged along--yet failed to launch.

In the early days, challenges associated with trying to deliver on the clinical mission in a county hospital drew the most attention; and efforts were largely focused on stabilizing the clinical activities since the financial impact could compromise the viability (or solvency) of the institution. By the time Claire Pomeroy became dean in 2005, the hospital and clinical side of our mission were well in hand (established), and we adopted the stretch goal of moving from the middle of the pack into the top quartile in US medical schools. By the time that I retired in in 2015, that goal was attained; and in the process, we passed UC Berkeley in NIH funding around 2008.

As a result, UC Davis School of Medicine has become a destination of choice. The quality of our faculty which was high to begin with, increased even more as we were better able to effectively compete with other top-tier institutions for faculty and students. At the time of this writing, UC Davis School of Medicine is ranked in the top 20 percent of U.S. medical schools. I hope that in some small way, I was able to contribute to our 50-year ascent.

Charles F. Frey, M.D.

Emeritus Professor of Surgery

My association with the University of California at Davis began in 1976 when I was recruited by Dean Tupper and Earl Wolfman, chair of surgery. I was asked to fill the position of chief of surgery at the Martinez VA hospital, which had just become a dean’s hospital for UC Davis. It had been agreed after four years in this position that I would come to the Sacramento campus of UC Davis as professor and vice chair of surgery.

My priorities have always been patient care, teaching of residents and medical students, and doing research. During this experience at the medical center I encountered some wonderful men and women.

Among these were William Blaisdell, chair of surgery; Dean Tupper; Dean Williams; Joe Leung, gastroenterology; Frank Loge, hospital director; Jim Boggan, neurosurgeon; Mike Chapman and Richard Marder, orthopedics; Richard White, internal medicine; Roger Low and Tony Stone, urology; Christoph Troppmann, transplant surgeon; Larry Morse, ophthalmology; Barbara Burrall, dermatology.

There were many outstanding residents who became distinguished surgeons including Felix Battistella, David Wisner, Hung Ho, Kathrin Maier Troppmann, Ernie Bodai, Ed Pottmeyer, Russell Stanten, Mary Estakhri, Jon Baker, and Bill and Tom Dugoni.

As vice chair of surgery and a pancreatic surgeon, I was provided with many opportunities at UC Davis such as invitations to international meetings and friendships in Japan, Germany, England, France and Italy. I am very glad I had the opportunity to be a faculty member at the University of California at Davis from 1976 to 1997.

Andrew Gabor, M.D.

The Early Days of the University of California School of Medicine
On the Occasion of its Golden Anniversary
Sent via Brain Waves from On High by Andrew John Gabor, M.D., Ph.D.

In the summer of 1969, a Davis realtor showed us houses just northwest of UC Davis’s main campus. He remarked, “Any day now, you will be able to walk through yonder pasture to the new UC Davis Medical Center.” NOT. Soon, the second State of California bond issue purporting to fund that hospital failed. A few years later the UC Regents bought the old Sacramento County Hospital for one dollar.

The Old Sacramento County Hospital

In the beginning, the Electroencephalography Laboratory was located in the pipe-filled basement of the old, but only, hospital. Nearby was a defective fire alarm that sounded randomly. Its purpose seemed to be to interrupt EEG recordings, frighten patients and annoy staff. Andy Gabor frequently reported such to maintenance personnel who sometimes took a look but couldn’t seem to fix it. The persistent blare became increasingly frequent and annoying as Andy went up the management hierarchy with complaints.

One day, Andy set up his Dictaphone with a fresh Dictabelt and lay in wait. The resulting recording soon landed on the hospital director’s desk. It was George Snively, I think. He got an earful, almost literally. Very soon, the offending alarm was fixed. Problem solved.

Soon EEG joined Neurology on the fifth floor. It was crowded, really crowded. Andy called Folsom Prison to inquire about how many square feet each prisoner had. This was greater than the number of square feet the EEG lab had for patients, technicians and staff. Andy laid this information on his good friend Bob Smith, then hospital director. A few months later, EEG had new quarters, not spacious but certainly more commodious.

Surely hundreds of such tales of the early days document the joys and struggles of proud faculty and students. Bravo to those pioneers.

Happy Golden Anniversary UC Davis School of Medicine from the Gabor Family.

Late professor Andrew Gabor was an integral part of the UC Davis Department of Neurology. He served as chair of the department from 1981 to 1991, as director of the electroencephalography laboratory from 1969 until his retirement, and was regarded as a national leader in epilepsy research.

Murray Gardner, M.D.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

In the early 1980s, the medical and veterinary schools played a major role in combating the emerging AIDS pandemic. Investigators in both schools and the Primate Center joined together to show that viruses causing AIDS-like disease in captive macaques and domestic cats were closely related to the human AIDS viruses, and that that the animal diseases had a similar pathogenesis to that of human AIDS.

By the mid-1990s research on these animal models led to the development of antiviral drugs that changed the fate of patients with AIDS from a fatal infection to a long-lived chronic infection. Potential AIDS- preventive vaccines, now in early human trials, were developed in the macaque model of AIDS pioneered, in large part, at UC Davis.

The successful teamwork between the medical and veterinary schools led to the construction on the Davis Campus of the Center for Comparative Medicine, a shared facility between the schools dedicated to research into the pathogenesis and cure of animal models of human disease.

Charles H. Halsted, M.D.

My medical career at UC Davis School of Medicine began on January 1, 1974, having trained and practiced as gastroenterologist at Johns Hopkins and Baltimore City Hospitals. I started my career here as the second faculty member in the Division of Clinical Nutrition & Metabolism, where I became the division chief from 1983 to 1997.

During this time I received a joint appointment in the Department of Nutrition on the Davis campus, recruited several other faculty members, and received a substantial 20-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to administer the Clinical Nutrition Research Unit (CNRU), a unique center that supported research activities of more than 50 School of Medicine and Department of Nutrition faculty members.

From 1996 to 2007, I also served as the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Clinically, the division I directed provided assessment and nutritional support for hundreds of inpatients, operated a UC Davis Medical Center outpatient clinic that focused on the evaluation and care of hundreds of patients with nutritional diseases, from malnutrition to extreme obesity, and provided a unique training environment for many residents and fellows.

With Robert B. Rucker, Ph.D., a Department of Nutrition faculty member, I shared responsibility for teaching clinical nutrition to second-year medical students, a unique educational experience at the School of Medicine for several decades.

With a new chair of medicine in 2004, the Division of Clinical Nutrition was folded into endocrinology, and I established a gastroenterology and nutrition clinic where I performed GI procedures, complete nutritional assessments, and specialized support for patients with underlying GI diseases.

At this time, Dr. Fred Myers, the internal medicine chair, asked me to take on a unique role as mentor for a new assistant professor, Dr. Valentina Medici, who had just arrived from the University of Padova in Italy. I put her in charge of my ongoing NIH-funded clinical study that evaluated patients with alcoholic liver disease who were randomized to receive a metabolite called S-adenosyl methionine or placebo during their treatments. The study provided background for Dr. Medici’s own research career on another liver disorder, Wilson disease.

As her mentor, I have been gratified by her continued NIH funding, progression through the academic ranks, cascade of research publications, and ascent to full professor this year. The word for this is generativity, where the skills of the mentor are passed on to the mentee: Dr. Medici has built on my past research to achieve her own academic successes.

Last, but perhaps most important, my 42-year medical career was supported by uninterrupted NIH research grants that resulted in more than 200 original research publications and review articles. My academic success at the UC Davis School of Medicine would never have occurred without the physical environment, colleagues, and insightful leadership in the Department of Internal Medicine and School of Medicine, of which I was a part.

John L. Keltner, M.D.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Looking back on 42 years at UC Davis School of Medicine, I can say without reservation that it has been a wild and wonderful ride. In 1976, I arrived at the very new school from Yale, one of the oldest medical schools in the country.

One of my earlier memories was Dean John Tupper standing on the diving board at a faculty reception at his home. He was announcing the possible closure of the hospital. Thankfully, that scare was averted when the university soon bought the hospital from Sacramento County. Out of the frying pan into the fire, we faced and survived a Joint Commission crisis that involved both the heart and kidney transplant programs. The entire school was affected; morale was never lower.

In 1976, the Department of Ophthalmology had four clinical faculty ophthalmologists and seven residents — all white males. The department now has 15 clinicians, seven research faculty members, 12 residents and a staff of 124. We are truly a United Nations that includes a large number of females among our faculty, residents and staff.

I have been privileged and often challenged to work under nine full or acting deans and five hospital directors in 26 years as chair and then director of the research and mentoring programs during the following years.

The department moved from temporary Quonset huts on the UC Davis campus to the Professional Building where the Shriner’s Hospital now stands, to the Cannery at Alhambra Plaza, and now the Ellison Building — outgrowing available space on day one in each place. Thanks to the generous donation of local philanthropist Ernest Tschannen, the much-needed UC Davis Eye Center will be breaking ground soon.

It has been exciting to see the UC Davis Ophthalmology Department and the School of Medicine move forward in research, teaching and patient care. I am proud to travel the world for meetings wearing my UC Davis hat, pleased and amazed by the world-wide status of the School of Medicine.

Allan Siefkin, M.D.

I arrived in 1975 as internal medicine house officer, later chief resident, and then later a pulmonary/critical care Fellow. I joined the internal medicine faculty in 1978 and then pulmonary/critical care in 1981. My main joys were teaching students, residents and fellows, and running various courses and programs including the pulmonary fellowship and a stint covering the internal medicine residents.

I enjoyed my research activities very much principle with Gibbe Parsons during my first 10 years. I enjoyed my many administrative responsibilities as UC Davis Medical Center medical director; associate dean clinical affairs for the School of Medicine; chief medical officer and chief compliance officer for UC Davis Health System; and executive director for the UC Davis Medical Group. Specific activities for which I was responsible, or very active as a collaborative planner or administrator, included:

  • 1993-95 clinical strategic plan, out of which we built the UC Davis Primary Care Network (where I served as first medical director)
  • UC Davis managed care, where we developed and implemented our capitation distribution plans and grew our capital population from 2,000 to between 100,000 to 200,000 over the first five years
  • UC Davis Health System contracting unit for the School of Medicine and medical center, where we were engaged in epic contact battles over the years: building or expansion, and administration of many of the Centers of Excellence including heart, cancer, emergency and trauma services, Children’s Hospital, neuromusculoskeletal (which became Spine Center and Stroke Centers)
  • Creation and building of our university-owned HMO (Western Health Advantage), for which I served as chairman of the Board of Directors
  • Building the Shriner’s Hospital relationship with the move from San Francisco
  • Serving as a key hospital leader as we built a university hospital out of the old county hospital with many, many towers and ambulatory building projects
  • Helping build and implement a regional health care initiative including telemedicine

I led the effort for four years during the nationwide PATH audit out of which came our compliance unit, where I served as CCO two separate times. I very much enjoyed the multiple quality and safety initiatives we started here including personally writing or coordinating the submission of a couple hundred million dollars in Federal/State partnership grants to improve our quality and safety. I served as the first UC Davis Health quality officer and safety officer. I enjoyed building the first UC Davis Medical Group organization and serving as the first executive director.

At the heart of my work was the guiding and care of our medical staff and resident medical staff, and assuring superb appointments and credentialing; medical staff risk management; medical staff health; legal issues with our medical staff; assuring coordinated quality and safety performance metrics for all units and staff; and all the relationships and surveys with the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Health Systems and the California State Department of Health. My office also served as the main point in writing and administering the multiple medical director agreements; on-call agreements; program support agreements and clinical stipends; clinic support agreements; residency support agreements that transferred and continue to transfer many millions of dollars annually from the medical center to the School of Medicine.

At the end of the day it was all about the fine and dedicated work of our hospital staff, nursing staff, residents and fellows, medical staff, and the hard working administrative staff that helped us work as a team to protect our mission of “Providing the highest quality and safest medical care for the patients who came to us.” I retired in 2014.

A little note: In my almost forty years at UC Davis Health System I worked with every dean or past dean in the School of Medicine, and every hospital director or other principal hospital administrator since the university bought the hospital from Sacramento County. These were challenging and rewarding relationships to say the least! I was mentored by some fine people and I am pleased to say I mentored a lot of others including many of our leaders today. For that I am proud.

Nazhiyath Vijayan M.D.

Professor Emeritus, Department of Neurology

I arrived in UC Davis in July of 1968 to work as a neurology resident under the newly appointed chair of neurology, Pierre Dreyfus, M.D. He was originally from Switzerland and had spent several years at Harvard. I was offered a job as an assistant professor of neurology after I completed my residency and was certified by the American Academy of Neurology.

Over the years I became interested in the field of the then-emerging specialty of headache medicine. I subsequently established the first Headache Clinic at UC Davis, which has continued to function even after my retirement. I was also in charge of organizing clinical neurology training of the medical students, which I really enjoyed.

I am very pleased that the UC Davis School of Medicine has become very successful over the last 50 years and has a great reputation in both training of future physicians and lately nurses. We also rank very high as a research institution. I am glad that that I was part of such an undertaking right from the start.