Morsani College of Medicine pioneer to retire after 39 years

Steven Specter, PhD, with his wife Randie and Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

After 39 years of dedicated service to the University of South Florida’s medical college, Steven Specter, PhD, will retire May 31, leaving an enduring legacy of improving the quality of life for students.

“It’s been a wonderful feeling to be part of the change that’s happened over the last 39 years.  We’ve really transitioned from being an institution that focuses on training physicians and nurses to an institution with an interdisciplinary breadth of educational opportunities,” said Dr. Specter, associate dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM) Office of Development and Alumni Affairs. ­

The Philadelphia native started as an assistant professor in the Medical Microbiology and Immunology department, now known as the Department of Molecular Medicine, in March 1979.  From there he worked his way through the academic ranks earning titles as associate professor, then professor.

In 1997, he served as chair of the College of Medicine Curriculum Committee.  During that time, he approached John Curran, MD, then the college’s executive associate dean for academic affairs, with the idea of establishing an office to oversee all aspects of implementing the medical curriculum.

Dr. Specter was among the staff, faculty and alumni inducted into the charter class of the Robert A. Good Honor Society.

Dr. Curran appointed Drs. Specter and Paul Wallach, MD, as directors of the Office of Curriculum and Medical Education, and later appointed Dr. Specter as associate dean of the office.

“Steve has been a figure in my life from the time I was student in 1980 until I resigned as the vice dean of the Office of Educational Affairs in 2007,” said Dr. Wallach, now executive associate dean of educational affairs and institutional improvement at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

“The years we worked together were incredibly formative, and I can attribute where I am today to those years of working with Steve.”

In 2001, Dr. Specter was named associate dean of the Office of Student Affairs, responsible for advancing the academic and personal growth and development of future physicians as they prepare for careers in medicine. Dr. Specter held this position until 2014, when he was promoted to his current position of associate dean of MCOM Development and Alumni Relations. He also retains an appointment as professor of molecular medicine.

Dr. Specter and Michael Kongnuyuy, MD, MCOM Class of 2017, a recipient of the Steven Specter Award. The award is presented to a fourth-year medical student for excellence in research.

“While serving as the associate dean for student affairs, Dr. Specter welcomed all.  He embraces and celebrates diversity, both in his approach to student life and in the staff he nurtures,” said Chad Whistle, director of the MCOM Office of Student Affairs. “He honored the rich tradition of the profession of medicine while instilling the great importance of humanism in the students he served.”

Dr. Specter will always be known as a great student advocate, both for his uncanny ability to connect with students and for his passion and drive to reduce student debt.

He started an endowed scholarship for a USF medical student that he predicts will become a full-tuition scholarship within two years.

Dr. Specter with the Morsani College of Medicine Office of Educational Affairs deans and staff.

Dr. Specter also worked with the USF Health Development Office to increase the number of scholarships available per class. Before he joined the medical college’s Development and Alumni Relations Office, two student scholarships were allotted for each class.  That number is now 43. Additionally, he pushed the college to award more financial aid. What started as $450,000 in financial aid and scholarships awarded each year has grown into nearly $5 million per year.

Dr. Specter with Zhi Ming (Thomas) Zheng, MD, PhD, and his wife Pei-Jun in 1994. Dr. Zheng worked with Dr. Specter as a graduate student and is now a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Zheng’s son, Yin, graduated from MCOM in 2015.

“We all know the critical difference Steve has made and will continue to make in building an esprit de corps among our medicine alumni,” said Jo-Ann Alessandrini, USF Health associate vice president for development and alumni relations. “His tireless efforts have built a solid foundation on which the MCOM Class Scholarship Campaigns will grow and flourish for generations of students.” ­

 

Dr. Specter and his wife Randie at his retirement reception.

 

Dr. Specter stays just as busy away from the college. He’s proud of the work he continues to do with the American Society of Microbiology (ASM). Beginning in 1984, he organized the first ASM Clinical Virology Symposium, an international gathering that attracted 140 physicians and scientists to Clearwater Beach to learn from experts the latest information on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of viral infections. Recognized as one of the premier virology conferences in the world, the annual symposium remains stronger than ever drawing more than 1,100 participants.

Dr. Specter’s influence spans the globe.  He worked with the ASM and Centers for Disease Control as the primary investigator for a federally-funded program that establishes microbiology laboratories, mostly in Africa, to help fight infectious diseases, specifically HIV and AIDS.  The project that started with $100,000 annual funding and has grown to $10 million per year in funding and now reaches more than 22 countries.

Dr. Specter (center right) and his wife Randie with Gregory Nicolosi, PhD, and his wife Carolyn.

With retirement on the horizon, Dr. Specter doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  He looks forward to spending more time with his family, particularly his grandchildren in California. He plans to continue his role as co-chair of the Clinical Virology Symposium as well as his membership on several boards within the Tampa Jewish community.

Dr. Specter’s retirement reception is Wednesday May 23, 4 to 6 p.m. at Traditions’s Hall, Gibson Alumni Center.

What other MCOM leaders say about Dr. Specter:

“It’s really hard to replace someone like Dr. Specter.  Steve has really been one of the quiet heroes of the college.  I look at his time as the dean of the Office of Student Affairs, and the hundreds of students he’s advised, and can’t help but appreciate all of the work he did visibly and behind the scenes. Steve has been a steady, wise, and constant presence for the college.  He has done some very remarkable things for the college and its students never sought the spotlight for what he did.  He is truly a champion for student success in the college.

Bryan Bognar, MD, MPH, Vice Dean, Office of Educational Affairs , Morsani College of Medicine

 “Dr. Specter has without a doubt shaped MCOM in ways that we can’t completely appreciate.  The way these physicians view their lives, take care of their patients and approach their careers has been shaped by the conversations he had with them. I think medical educators dream of impacting their students in the way Dr. Spector has, and I am quite certain that few do.”

Deborah DeWaay, MD, FACP, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Medical Education, Morsani College of Medicine

 “Dr. Steven Specter has been a devoted advocate for the College of Medicine and the University.  Loyalty and support of the University have been distinguishing features of his career as well.   Clearly a team member and virtually founding member of the College of Medicine who has been one of its pillars of support for many years and most likely for years to come.”

John Curran, MD, Former Associate Vice President, USF Health

 “Steve has demonstrated his dedication to USF all the years he has been here.  His dedication to medical students in every way you can think of is what helps him separate him from others.  It has been a privilege to have worked with him, but even more just to know him”

Martin Silbiger, MD, Former Dean, Morsani College of Medicine.