Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine graduates its first class

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NUTLEY, NJ — Eighteen students from the first class of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine graduated June 3 and are now ready to start their medical careers.

The medical students, who began working toward their degrees in 2018, graduated in an accelerated three-year program at the School of Medicine campus in Nutley. All will start residencies across the Hackensack Meridian Health network. 

“This is the fulfillment of a dream to improve our health system, from its very foundations,” Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert C. Garrett said. “Leading progressive and positive change in medicine starts with training the professionals who treat patients. This school is now shaping a better future for our state — and beyond.”

“We are achieving our vision,” said Dr. Bonita Stanton, the school’s founding dean. “These 18 students have already contributed to the communities they serve, and their careers bring so much promise into our future. This is a proud day.”

The students will begin their residencies in a variety of disciplines, including anesthesiology, internal medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, emergency medicine and neurology at Hackensack University Medical Center, Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center and JFK University Medical Center. The students were informed of their residencies in a virtual “Match Day” held in March — a first for the institution.

Hackensack Meridian Health partnered with Seton Hall University and opened the school on the Nutley–Clifton campus on Route 3 three years ago. The agreement was restructured in 2018, and the school achieved independent accreditation in July 2020.

The School of Medicine’s inaugural class in 2018 included 60 students; the other students from that class have opted for the traditional four-year track and will have their graduation next spring.

Enrollment and admissions have increased since its founding. The class incoming in 2019 admitted 90 students. Another 122 students made up the 2020 cohort, as selected from more than 5,000 applicants. The latest incoming class will number more than 150, admitted from more than 6,000 candidates.

The school also aims to diversify New Jersey’s next generation of physicians. Nearly half of the class admitted in 2020 is female, and students speak 33 different languages. Half of the class identifies as persons of color, and a quarter are from groups categorized as underrepresented in medicine.

The school’s innovative approach includes several distinctive features:

Students have the opportunity for a three-year path to residency, or an optional fourth year which offers combined master’s degree or graduate certificate programs, intense clinical immersion or focused research.

Interdisciplinary learning adds to a curriculum that is mission-based, and designed to create physicians who are humanistic, socially responsible and collaborative across the health care system. The goal is to train professionals who are equally adept at biomedical intricacies, as they are at the behavioral, social and health system sciences used to treat people. 

The “human dimension course” is a distinctive way to place the students in a clinical context. From the first day of the degree program, this immersive community-based experience links pairs of students to families in the community, with a focus on four domains of health: social, environmental, psychological and medical. Throughout their pursuit of the degree, students follow the health trajectories of individuals and families, in locations including Hackensack, Garfield, Paterson, Passaic, Bloomfield, Clifton, Nutley, Union City and West New York. Through experiences in the family’s home, community and health care settings, students come to understand the role of community and context in health and well-being, as well as the role of the physician in maintaining health.

“This school is at the vanguard of the medical education needed in the 21st century,” said Dr. Jeffrey Boscamp, vice dean of the medical school and a professor of pediatrics. “In just a few short years, we have made this school a reality — and it is already making a difference.”

The commencement also marks another milestone toward full accreditation by agencies like that of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. The school received “provisional” accreditation from the LCME earlier this year.