Med school wins prestigious NOVA Award

NUTLEY, NJ — Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine has won the prestigious NOVA Award from the American Hospital Association, distinguishing it as just one of a handful of institutions across the country reaching the top echelons of community health.

The AHA Dick Davidson NOVA Award honors hospital-led collaborative efforts improving community health. The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine was honored for its contributions through the Human Dimension program, a key part of the curriculum which puts students out in the community to work on social determinants of health in day-to-day life.

“The school of medicine was just one of five programs in the nation to be awarded the American Hospital Association’s NOVA Award for improving community health,” Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert Garrett said. “The Human Dimension and the innovative curriculum at this unique school are ensuring New Jersey communities, and beyond, will achieve high levels of wellness.”

“The involved communities and the faculty, students and staff at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine are deeply honored to receive the NOVA Award honoring the Human Dimension program,” said Dr. Bonita Stanton, dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “The HD program serves both as the platform for our curriculum and as tangible evidence to our commitment to the importance of community in health education and health care delivery.” 

“We are honored to partner with our communities for this transformational work,” said Dr. Carmela Rocchetti, director of the Human Dimension. “We strive to instill in our students that the patient is our teacher, the community is our classroom. We have found the most important learning comes from these valued partnerships. We look forward to evolving this unique program in the years to come.”

The Human Dimension is a three-year course focused on “social determinants of health” — which include housing, food access and other standard-of-life factors. Pairs of medical students are matched with families in the community. The students come to know these individuals, families and communities very well; in turn, the families and communities have become connected to the school. So far, nearly 150 families and 80 community partners have been touched by the program, in communities including Clifton, Nutley, Passaic, Paterson, Hackensack, Garfield, Bloomfield, West New York, Union City and groups spanning the state of New Jersey.

The Human Dimension also links to classroom-based activities and small group mentorship with a faculty mentor, providing students with the critical knowledge, skills and supervision to enrich the real-world learning. For instance, while a student is learning anatomy of the heart and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in their lab and classroom sessions, in the Human Dimension they review health histories with their families, and even go out to that family’s community and complete a “food map” — looking to see if there are sources of fresh fruits and vegetables or safe places to exercise in the family’s neighborhood and community.

The AHA Dick Davidson NOVA Award recognizes health systems and hospitals for their collaborative efforts toward improving community health status, whether through health care, economic or social initiatives. Honorees participate in joint efforts among health care systems or hospitals, or among hospitals and other community leaders and organizations.

“The most successful hospitals and health systems put in the work every day to improve the health of both patients and the communities they serve,” AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said. “This year’s AHA Dick Davidson NOVA Award winners demonstrated this commitment through partnerships and innovative programs that address urgent and immediate public health challenges.”