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Dr. William Cliff Named Endowed Program Director of Pre-Professional Health

Five years ago, John Hughes, ’67, donated a $750,000 estate gift to establish the first endowed faculty position at Niagara University. This month, his vision became reality when biology professor Dr. William Cliff was named the John J. Hughes, ’67, M.D., Endowed Program Director of Pre-Professional Health.

Although Dr. Cliff will take on some new responsibilities, he’s been serving as an advisor to students interested in the healthcare professions for more than a decade, so the position isn’t necessarily a new role for him. But now, with additional resources, he’ll be able to enhance his efforts.

“Jack Hughes was a very generous benefactor and also a visionary supporter of our pre-health students,” Dr. Cliff says. “(His gift) supports what we’ve been doing and, in a sense, gives me a lot more flexibility and time to accomplish it.”

For the next three years, Dr. Cliff will focus on student recruitment, academic advisement, chairing the committee on recommendations for medical/dental studies, maintaining articulation agreements, and organizing and implementing specific programming activities related to preprofessional studies in the health and life sciences. These activities are intended to serve as a catalyst for Niagara to build upon and expand its programs in the interdisciplinary sciences, generally, and the health and life sciences, specifically. They will also assist in Niagara’s continuous effort to align its strategic priorities with those of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.

“The generous gift from Dr. Hughes to fund this position demonstrated his belief in the excellence of our faculty and the strength of our academic programs,” wrote the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara’s president, in an email to the campus community. “A prominent radiologist who practiced in several states during his career, including New York and Florida, Dr. Hughes stated on many occasions that his professors at Niagara helped him develop the intellectual proficiency he carried throughout his life. He was committed to continuing this legacy by recruiting and retaining world-class faculty to work with our students on interdisciplinary research. The establishment of this endowed position — and Dr. Cliff’s appointment — is a testament to the lasting impact that Niagara University faculty members have on their students, many of whom go on to achieve significant personal and professional success.”

With this appointment, Dr. Cliff formally joins an exclusive group of faculty advisors to the health professions, including Dr. Thomas Morton, M.S.’36, Ph.D.’38, Dr. John Reedy, ’48, and Dr. Robert Greene, ’75, M.S.’77, a group that has helped generations of students pursue their health career aspirations. And he has identified several objectives that he’d like to accomplish during his tenure.

One of the best ways for students to discern whether or not they have a calling to the healthcare profession is to interact with healthcare professionals, Dr. Cliff notes, so one of his priorities will be to expand students’ exposure to the profession through additional internship, shadowing, and volunteer opportunities. Several local alumni and many friends of the preprofessional health program are currently offering these kinds of opportunities and Dr. Cliff is looking forward to adding more.

Dr. Cliff would also like to launch a speaker series with nationally recognized healthcare leaders and distinguished alumni to engage students in discussions about the health professions, ethics and national issues that impact the healthcare system in the United States.

Niagara has a number of notable alumni in the healthcare professions across the country, and Dr. Cliff would like to formalize a mentoring program to connect them with current students. He’d also like to increase the program’s involvement with community health initiatives, both in the Western New York area and abroad.

“Right now, our university has a number of overseas opportunities that would allow students to gain international exposure to health professions,” Dr. Cliff says. “So I’m looking to expand the opportunities there for students to learn more about health and healthcare professions overseas.”

Many of these ventures will rely on partnerships, so Dr. Cliff will also be strengthening and developing connections with on-campus departments and programs such as nursing, public health, gerontology, career services, admissions, academic exploration, EAGLE Leadership, and the Levesque Institute.

All these endeavors will assist students to prepare, qualify and apply for careers in the health professions. But Dr. Cliff also hopes that they will inspire students to become compassionate, as well as competent, professionals. Dr. Cliff references the late Dr. C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States, for a guiding principle and vision for the program. Dr. Koop urged healthcare professionals to “put the needs of patients and students above their own,” “to comfort and assure patients by holding a hand or putting an arm around a shoulder,” and to “provide a patient with spiritual as well as physical help.”

“To me, that expands the dimension of our prehealth program,” Dr. Cliff says. “My desire is for students to go out of here not just trained well in terms of academic competencies, but to go out of here with a greater compassion for others. I think that’s consistent with both our Vincentian mission and our emphasis on service learning. I really want to be able to enhance the program in that direction.”

For more information about how you can become involved in these pre-health initiatives, visit http://www.niagara.edu/pre-health-alumni-and-friends/.