The strong tie between Burke and Cornell University Medical College (CUMC) has been apparent from the founding of the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in 1915. Dr. Lewis A. Conner, a founding member of the medical college, urged his patient and friend, John Masterson Burke, to establish the Winifred Burke Relief Foundation. Dr. Conner, who served as president of the Burke Foundation and Medical Director of the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital had a strong interest in applying laboratory findings and clinical research to advance medical treatments.
In the early 1970’s, Dr. Fletcher McDowell became the director of the Burke Rehabilitation Center. Dr. McDowell was an associate dean at CUMC and an expert in stroke and Parkinson’s disease. Dr. McDowell understood the importance of world-class research for rehabilitation medicine and for training future leaders. As a result, the Burke Medical Research Institute was founded on the premise that neurological dysfunction, specifically cognitive problems, limited the ability of patient’s to optimally engage and benefit from neurological rehabilitation strategies. He also established a close link to the Department of Neurology at CUMC, which was and still is among the best departments in the world. This tie was critical for recruiting outstanding scientist/physicians to Burke and for providing the intellectual enrichment necessary to maintain quality faculty at Burke. The Burke/Cornell relationship has laid the groundwork for the creation of an outstanding research/training program oriented toward patient rehabilitation.