Bonita Stanton, dean of Hackensack Meridian medical school, dies at 70

Dr. Bonita Stanton, founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine and a pediatrician whose approach to medical education was shaped by her work in the slums of Bangladesh, died Wednesday. She was 70.

The cause was “a sudden and unexpected illness,” a statement from Hackensack Meridian Health system said. It was not COVID, a spokesman said.

Stanton arrived in New Jersey in 2016 with an invitation to create a medical school that would change the way physicians are educated. In two years, she helped recruit its leaders and faculty, gain the institution its accreditation, and devise its curriculum. The school welcomed its first students in 2018, some of whom graduated last year from its innovative option to complete coursework in three years. 

After her experience working with mothers in Dhaka, Bangladesh to prevent and treat diarrheal illness in children, Stanton believed that a focus on the social determinants of health — such as access to safe housing, nutritious food and opportunities for exercise — would also improve the health outcomes of patients in the United States, while lowering health care costs.

Dr. Bonita Stanton

That vision guided her approach to medical education. As part of the medical school’s curriculum, students embed with families in the community to learn about the environmental and personal factors affecting their health and help them to navigate and advocate for themselves in the health care and social-service bureaucracies they encounter.

The launch of the medical school in Nutley, the first in the state in 50 years, capped a career that included academic positions at the University of Maryland, West Virginia University and Wayne State University in Detroit.