Higher Ed

Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine Celebrates White Coat Ceremony for Inaugural Class

Sixty students in the first class at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine launched their medical careers yesterday with a White Coat ceremony at the school, which was created to address a looming physician shortage and to transform medical education to meet new challenges in health care delivery.

“We welcome this exceptional class of students to the physician community by giving them a white coat, an enduring symbol of compassion and honor,’’ said Robert C. Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health.

Garrett noted that more than 2,100 students applied for the 60 slots. The class includes two practicing RN’s, five graduate students, as well as a future physician with a Ph.D. in pharmacology. Half the students are from New Jersey and nearly half are women.

The innovative curriculum offers a three-year program so students can start their residencies a year early or stay on and obtain a graduate degree. Only a dozen or so medical schools offer three-year programs, which lower the cost of a medical education. The curriculum is based on an approach that focuses equally on maintaining health and curing illness.

“We have created a rigorous academic curriculum that combines traditional science with a focus on the new frontiers in medicine – prevention, population health, genetics and team-based care delivered in the community setting,’’ said Mary Meehan, Ph.D., interim president of Seton Hall University.

Along with the opening of the School of Medicine, Seton Hall University has relocated its College of Nursing and School of Health and Medical Sciences to create an Interprofessional Health Sciences (IHS) campus in Nutley and Clifton, Meehan said.

“As we have come to recognize the importance of social factors on health outcomes, we  better understand that health and wellness occur in the community, not in the hospital,’’ said Dr. Bonita Stanton, founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University. “We are teaching our students the power and importance of community in improving the arc of a population’s health.’’

Additionally, the Hackensack Meridian Health board of trustees has established a $100 million endowment fund for scholarships to the school, fulfilling a high priority to ensure top students can afford a medical education, Garrett said.

Students will train in several of Hackensack Meridian Health’s 16 hospitals including four of whom are listed among the top 10 in New Jersey, including the No. 1 ranked Hackensack University Medical Center.

Research shows that physicians often practice where they train which would help the state ease a shortage of an estimated 3,000 doctors by 2020.

The innovative curriculum will help future physicians navigate major changes in health care that are underway in the U.S. including the transition to value-based care in which physicians and hospitals are paid to keep people well. It’s a major shift from fee-for-service medicine in which providers are paid for each treatment and procedure.

The strategy is essential to improve outcomes and lower the cost of care as the U.S. faces an epidemic of diabetes and other chronic disease, which is costly and in many cases preventable. Even though the U.S. spends far more than many nations, we lag behind other peer nations in all major areas of health including maternal and infant health and life expectancy. This new approach aims to eliminate disparities in health outcomes.

Students will develop partnerships with families living in stressed communities and shadow them to understand and help families overcome factors that can impede or contribute to well-being, such as access to grocery stores and transportation to access care.

“We are thrilled to be part of the solution to reform health care from the ground up and we are so proud of our inaugural class of talented and compassionate future physicians,’’ said Joseph Simunovich, co-chair of the Hackensack Meridian Health board of trustees and chair of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University board of governors.

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