Nancy H. Nielsen, MD ’76, PhD, with her five children, their spouses, and some of her grandchildren on stage at UB’s Alumni Achievement Awards ceremony.

Jacobs School Honors Nielsen as Distinguished Alumna

By Dirk Hoffman

Published October 31, 2023

Nancy H. Nielsen, MD ’76, PhD, was among those honored at the 2023 University at Buffalo Alumni Achievement Awards ceremony.


Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy and clinical professor of medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, was honored as the Jacobs School’s Distinguished Alumni Award winner.

Accepted to Medical School at Age 29 With Five Children

“I was so happy to receive the medical school’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and to have all my sons and daughters, as well as several grandchildren present for it,” Nielsen said. “Nothing beats being recognized by the medical school that gave me a chance when I applied at age 29 with five children.”

“I’ve been blessed with good fortune in my career, and I owe it all to UB and the Jacobs School. It’s an honor to work at my alma mater, where preparing the next generation of physicians and discovering breakthroughs that will impact thousands of lives is an everyday occurrence,” she added. “I love UB, and this alumni honor was unexpected and so appreciated!”

Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, left, and Nancy H. Nielsen, MD ’76, PhD.

Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, left, and Nancy H. Nielsen, MD ’76, PhD

A past president of the American Medical Association, Nielsen is a highly regarded media expert on health policy and health systems reform. 

She served as a senior adviser in the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation during the Obama administration and on the board of directors for multiple health-based organizations, including the National Patient Safety Foundation, the National Quality Forum, the Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Company and Kaleida Health.

Nielsen has been recognized with numerous accolades, including the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Catholic University of America (where she obtained her doctoral degree in microbiology), the Elizabeth Blackwell Award from the American Medical Women’s Association, the West Virginia University Hall of Fame, and election into the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cancer Research Scientist, Educator Feted

UB President Satish K. Tripathi, left, and Roosevelt Thedford, PhD ’73, MA ’62.

UB President Satish K. Tripathi, left, and Roosevelt Thedford, PhD ’76, MA ’72

Also honored was Roosevelt Thedford, PhD ’73, MA ’62, who received the Clifford C. Furnas Memorial Award.

Thedford, a native of Jefferson County, Ala., is a retired professor of chemistry at Clark Atlanta University (CAU). As the only child in his family to go to college, Thedford spent his career encouraging young students to pursue scientific careers as he did.

He received his bachelor’s in chemistry from Clark College in Atlanta. He then earned a master’s degree in chemistry from UB, then a doctorate in biochemistry from the Jacobs School. 

After working as a cancer research scientist at Roswell Park Memorial Institute (now Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center), he returned to his undergraduate alma mater as an associate professor of chemistry. The consolidation of Clark College and Atlanta University resulted in the formation of CAU in 1989, where Thedford remained as a professor until his retirement in 2009.

In addition to his teaching obligations, Thedford conducted research in chemistry and biochemistry of nucleic acids with the support of private and federal grants and made a point of involving both his undergraduate and graduate students in his research. In 1983, he was selected to participate in the UNCF Distinguished Scholars Program to further pursue his research interests. 

Ceremony Conducted at Amherst Hotel

The Clifford C. Furnas Memorial Award was established by his wife, the late Sparkle M. Furnas, as an annual award to be presented to a distinguished graduate of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences or the College of Arts and Sciences in a natural sciences or mathematics discipline.

Nielsen and Thedford were among 18 alumni honored by UB at the ceremony Oct. 12 at the Marriott Buffalo Niagara in Amherst, New York.