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UHS Director Ralph Manchester to retire at the end of June

Manchester has spearheaded key campus health initiatives, including the tobacco-free campaign and Eastman Performing Arts Medicine.

Headshot of Ralph Manchester.
Ralph Manchester. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Ralph Manchester, vice provost and director of University Health Service (UHS) at the University of Rochester, will retire on July 1. Manchester joined UHS as a staff physician immediately after completing his residency in 1983 and for the better part of 40 years has led the University’s student health and wellness service that spans three campuses. Manchester also holds a professor of medicine appointment at the University’s School of Medicine and Dentistry.

“Ralph’s dedication to our students and commitment to their health is beyond measure,” says David Figlio, University Provost and Gordon Fyfe Professor of Economics and Education. “Through his vision and hard work, the University of Rochester has become a national model for supporting student health and wellness. The entire community owes him our thanks.”

After serving for two years as a UHS staff physician, Manchester was appointed UHS medical chief and an assistant professor in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. In 1994, he was named director of UHS, which delivers primary care and health and wellness services to students, occupational health services to employees, and counseling and mental health services to students through the University Counseling Center (UCC). As director, Manchester oversees a large staff of health professionals, including nurses, physicians, counselors, health educators, and administrators; administers all facets of the University’s student health insurance program, including managing enrollment for students at all academic levels; and provides departmental leadership and clinical guidance to help keep the student body healthy and mentally well during the course of an academic year. He also regularly sees patients on both the River Campus and at the Eastman School of Music.

Under Manchester’s direction, the University in 1999 became one of the first in the country to assign to each student a primary care physician or nurse practitioner to coordinate and oversee their care while attending school. This model has since been adopted at a number of colleges and universities nationwide. Throughout his tenure, Manchester also showed a commitment to increasing the diversity of UHS staff, with the first Black physicians and nurses being hired under his leadership.

As a physician, Manchester has unique expertise in treating musicians who are dealing with an injury or health issue that interferes with their ability to perform. He played a leading role in developing the Eastman Performing Arts Medicine initiative, a collaboration between the Eastman School and Medical Center that creates a foundation for clinicians, artists, and researchers to forge innovative connections between health and the arts, and to unify existing clinical services, arts integration, and research to transform arts-related health care delivery and scientific understanding. He is also a past president of the national Performing Arts Medicine Association and for 10 years served as the editor of the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists.

Two health care workers in white coats administered a flu shot to University of Rochester mascot Rocky.
UHS Director Ralph Manchester has consistently promoted getting the flu shot on campus, including in 2014 with UHS’s Joanne Spicci. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

In 2017, Manchester led the University’s campaign to become a Tobacco-Free Campus, an effort to create a healthier learning and working environment for University community members by restricting all forms of tobacco, e-cigarettes, and vaping indoors and outdoors on University properties. He developed the new policy for becoming tobacco-free and led the implementation of the plans that established this new healthy standard.

Over the years, Manchester has led the medical responses to several urgent health crises that have emerged on the University’s River Campus and Eastman School of Music Campus, including outbreaks of measles, norovirus, and most recently, COVID-19. During the pandemic, Manchester and his UHS primary care team administered thousands of COVID tests, organized several COVID vaccine clinics on campus, and created a mass vaccination system for those students who were arriving to campus for the first time without having received the required COVID vaccine. He and his team also created an online system for verifying the required vaccination cards, as well as the negative COVID tests students needed to upload before their campus arrival.

Although extremely short-staffed at times during the pandemic, Manchester and UHS nurses and staff managed the around-the-clock operation of containing the spread of the virus in the University community, including seeing ill students and getting them into isolation space when they tested positive; coordinating their transportation to these spaces day and night, and developing the health guidance that determined when they could safely leave isolation; and creating a contact tracing program to monitor the potential spread of COVID among healthy students. He and his team also managed the intake of thousands of daily Dr. Chat Bot health screening reports and made UHS a point of distribution for the COVID self-tests students needed to check their symptoms throughout the academic year. In 2021, UHS’s University Health Service Primary Care and Health Promotion Office was honored with the University’s Meliora Award in recognition of the extraordinary work they performed during the pandemic to protect the health and safety of Rochester’s campus community.

In addition to his duties at UHS and the Medical Center, Manchester has taken on leadership roles at several national associations, including serving as president of the American College Health Association (ACHA), which is the nation’s principal leadership organization for advancing the health and wellness of college students and campus communities. In 2020, he was honored with ACHA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes individuals who have dedicated their professional lives to improving the health of college students, and who have provided outstanding service to the organization.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of an amazing team at an outstanding university,” says Manchester. “I’m now looking forward to spending more time with family and friends.”

A national search for the next UHS director is currently underway with Spelman Johnson, an executive search firm that focuses on education, advocacy associations, and social impact organizations.

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