Dr. Bonita Stanton, Founding Dean of Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, is honored posthumously with a special Hurwitz Award

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation is pleased to announce that a special Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Humanism in Healthcare Award will be given posthumously to Dr. Bonita F. Stanton, Founding Dean of Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, a Gold Partners Council member.

This award recognizes Dr. Stanton’s imprint on the humanistic culture of Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, her innovative contributions to pediatric medicine, her commitment to improving the health of under-represented minorities and disenfranchised populations all over the world, her extensive academic writing, and her incredible legacy of bold action.

“Dr. Stanton made a great and lasting impact on humanism in healthcare in medical education and beyond,” said Richard I. Levin, President and CEO of the Gold Foundation. “With this award, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Stanton, an extraordinary leader, educator, physician, and humanist who changed medical education and our broader world for the better with her ideas, her persistence, and her care for others.

The Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Award for Humanism in Healthcare honors a woman who exemplifies humanism and has advanced, through her scholarship, advocacy, leadership or work, the well-being of underserved or vulnerable populations in the healthcare arena. Through this annual award, the Gold Foundation honors the spirit of Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz, who was inspired by her son to create change for children with disabilities. This honor was established in 2014 through a generous gift from Dr. Ronald Arky, Daniel D. Federman Professor of Medicine and Medical Education at the Harvard Medical School. This is the first time the Gold Foundation has bestowed a special posthumous edition of the Hurwitz Award.

Dr. Stanton advocated for the often unseen and unheard. She saw people beyond diagnoses and demographics. She was free-spirited, modest, and always curious. Her humility lowered people’s guards and created an almost immediate connection between her and her patients. She understood the machinations of healthcare across the board, but she never allowed numbers and policy prescriptions to tell the story. Dr. Stanton knew that humanism was the answer to better healthcare and healthier communities.

While her contemporaries often upheld tradition and status-quo, Dr. Stanton was dreaming up new approaches to age-old problems. Dr. Stanton was funded by the National Institutes of Health for over 25 years. She also consulted for the World Bank, Centers for Disease Control, WHO, UNICEF, and USAID in the areas of urban health, HIV/AIDS transmission in youth, maternal child health, vaccines and health services research.

As Founding Dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine (SOM), president of academic enterprise for Hackensack Meridian Health, and the Robert and Laura Garrett Endowed Chair for the SOM Dean, she conceived of and implemented a bold and immersive approach to training tomorrow’s physicians and healthcare leaders. In achieving this, she framed her entire perspective on medical education around the concept of the Human Dimension curriculum. The concept essentially invites collaboration and community-minded thinking in the improvement of health outcomes.

The Human Dimension seeks to infuse a uniquely progressive bent to medical school education. Students are educated on health inequities by learning about the determinants of health and by working collaboratively with individuals and families in underserved areas. The goal is to teach future physicians that context and details matter in the pursuit of identifying how to address social, behavioral, environmental, and genetic determinants of health.

The future and how we shaped it mattered to Dr. Stanton. She authored a rich collection of 325 peer-reviewed articles, served as an editor of the Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics along with many other journals and books, and advocated passionately for women in the workplace. Dr. Stanton served on many local, national, and international task forces that addressed concerns for women in the workforce (including as a United Nations Development Programme/WHO consultant to the Inter-regional Workshop on Women’s Participation in Water Supply and Sanitation in Bangkok, Thailand).

Her visionary contributions continued with her development of a new medical school with Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, which was informed by her national and international experiences. Those global experiences included her personal research focused on a community’s role in HIV prevention and treatment in impoverished settings that included the US, Namibia, India, and the Caribbean. Additionally, Dr. Stanton worked and lived, with her husband and two daughters, in Bangladesh. She served as director of a community-based research and service program that was implemented to improve the lives of underserved families and thousands of displaced homeless rural immigrants that were living in makeshift slums in Dhaka. In her last two years in Bangladesh, Dr. Stanton served as the maternal child health advisor for the World Bank and Bangladesh.

Afterwards, in the age of COVID-19, Dr. Stanton and her team adapted and reframed the Human Dimension program, shifting focus towards creating the COVID SOS (Support our Schools) Task Force to help districts navigate issues relating to COVID-19. Essentially, the program matches groups of medical students and faculty to participating school districts to assist in their reopening plans; improves aspects of digital learning; provides general education for parents and staff; and develops customized programmatic elements to meet the needs of each school.

Dr. Stanton was determined to get the word out about COVID-19 vaccines. “In communities that might have mistrust, there were connections made through the Human Dimension course. One community leader told us, ‘We trust the SOM,’” said David S. Kountz, MD, MBA, FACP, Vice President, Academic Affairs, Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center, co-chief academic officer and Hackensack Meridian SOM Associate Dean for Diversity and Equity. “That trust was driven by Dr. Stanton and those doors opened through her leadership.”

Read the announcement about Dr. Thuy Bui, 2022 Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Award recipient.

Read the announcement about our 2022 Honorable Mentions: Dr. Julie Aultman, Dr. Jennifer L. Haak, and Dr. Aliza S. Norwood.

Irene Zampetoulas, MPA

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