On behalf of our faculty, staff and students, I welcome you to the UK College of Medicine Department of Behavioral Science. Our department focuses on behavioral factors in health, and we adopt a transdisciplinary approach that recognizes the influences of biological, psychological, social, and cultural processes on human behavior.

The department’s roots can be traced to the decision of the Kentucky legislature and Gov. Albert B. Chandler in 1956 to establish the University of Kentucky Medical Center and to hire Dr. William R. Willard as the inaugural dean of the College of Medicine. Dr. Willard invited a trusted colleague, Dr. Robert Straus, a medical sociologist by training, to join him in Lexington to serve on the planning staff for the new college. In recognition of the central role of the behavioral sciences in medicine, the planning committee proposed the first ever standalone basic science department of behavioral science in a college of medicine and to appoint Dr. Straus as the chair. The proposal was approved by the Board of Trustees in 1959. Dr. Straus, a member of the National Academy of Science, served as chair until his retirement in 1987 and continued to actively support the department as emeritus professor until his passing in 2020. 

From the very beginning, the College of Medicine Department of Behavioral Science has been actively involved in educating medical students on the psychological, social, and cultural influences on human health and on the importance of effective patient communication. (Health and Society and Communication and Interviewing were the titles of the first courses offered by the department in 1960.) While the names of the courses and the delivery methods have changed over time, the department’s central role in delivering this training continues through this day in our first-year course, entitled Introduction to Clinical Medicine, which is a required longitudinal “doctoring” course covering topics such as history-taking, communication skill development, medical ethics, and health inequalities.

Behavioral science faculty have also played a significant service role for the College of Medicine and University of Kentucky. Beginning with Dr. Straus serving as the coordinator of academic affairs in the college and medical center, behavioral science faculty have served in prominent leadership roles in medical student admissions, the College of Medicine Faculty Council, the University Senate, and most recently through Dr. Lee Blonder’s two consecutive three-year elected service terms as faculty representative on the Board of Trustees.

Research and scholarship have also been a priority for the department, and faculty are encouraged to sustain independent programs of extramurally sponsored research that serve as the foundation for improving human health and training graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and early-career faculty. Departmental faculty have notable research expertise in the areas of substance misuse, cancer, clinical neuroscience, and health equity. Master’s and PhD research training programs in clinical and translational science have been established in the past decade in partnership with the NIH-funded Center for Clinical and Translational Science, and the department has a strong tradition of supporting research career development with NIH-funded training grants and other sources of support.

The department also benefits from having a dedicated, experienced, and talented staff who provide tireless support for the teaching, service, and research missions.

We invite you to learn more about the department of behavioral science by exploring the information provided in these web pages and by contacting us for additional information on available programs and resources.

Thomas H. Kelly, PhD
Robert Straus Professor and Chair

Thomas Kelly, PhD
Thomas Kelly, PhD, Chair