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Carmela Rocchetti, M.D., director of the Human Dimension (HD) curriculum and assistant dean of Community Engaged Education at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine (HMSOM), has been honored with an EJI Excellence in Medicine Award. 

Honoring New Jersey healthcare leaders, the EJI Excellence in Medicine Awards are considered the highest recognition in New Jersey’s medical community. Rocchetti has been recognized with   the Outstanding Medical Educator Award. 

Rocchetti was cited for her role in helping to develop the curriculum and helping to guide the social-determinant-of-health focus of the HMSOM, which admitted its first cohort of students in 2018.  

“Dr. Rocchetti is a clinician educator dedicated to improving health outcomes for historically underserved communities,” according to the EJI Awards’ Feb. 20 announcement. “In her medical education role, she develops transformative programs and curricula that not only equip trainees with essential skills but also inspire them with a profound sense of responsibility to address health equity.” 

Rocchetti helped to develop and now leads the HD course, a unique program addressing health inequities through a progressive medical school education. The program provides service-learning experiences and an integrated curriculum for medical students who come to understand how social determinants of health impact the communities they serve. 

Through the HD course, the community is the classroom – and the students go right out into the community to learn about working with people and families right in their homes. The HD process impacts peoples’ lives, as students learn about social determinants of health by working closely with individuals and families from underserved areas.  

The goal of this centerpiece of the HMSOM curriculum is to train physicians to understand that context matters and to learn how to address the social, behavioral, and environmental determinants of health. Medical students recognize and apply drivers of health outcomes; practice healthcare with cultural competency, humility, and sensitivity; discuss the existence and magnitude of healthcare inequities and collaborate with other health professionals and community members regarding these issues; and, most importantly, create solutions that address healthcare inequities. 

Over 400 families are reached through HD. The program works with over 120 community partners in 20 municipalities across New Jersey. 

Under Rocchetti’s leadership, the HD program is changing the way healthcare is delivered by having young physicians understand how to partner with communities to improve health. 

This program rose to the health challenge of our times in 2020. HD mobilized an underutilized medical student workforce to provide services for communities in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the needs expressed by communities involved in the HD program,  Rocchetti and her team created the COVID SOS (Support our Schools) Task Force. Managed by students and faculty to help districts navigate COVID-19-related questions and issues, it matched medical students and faculty to school districts to aid in reopening plans; improve digital learning; provide general COVID education for parents and staff; and develop programming to meet the needs of individual schools. 

The SOS program was built in response to the needs of some of the hardest-hit communities in New Jersey, which exhibited the highest rates of healthcare and education disparities. In addition to the SOS task force initiative, Rocchetti and her team mobilized faculty and leaders from across HMH to create a community-focused COVID-19 Advisory Board, which provided free reopening assistance and support as schools navigated the evolving dynamics of this pandemic.  

Post-pandemic, the SOS program evolved to focus on helping empower K-12 school leaders to understand SODH and learn how to access resources and be empowered to make systematic changes to support wellness and combat the mental health crisis in youth. 

A primary care doctor with HMH since 2011, Rocchetti is a first-generation college graduate who understands the challenges associated with underserved communities, firsthand. She became a physician to make a meaningful difference.  

Rocchetti trained at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell, where she served as ambulatory chief resident. She is a graduate of Cornell University, where she was recognized for her commitment to service and named a Cornell National Scholar, an honor given to fewer than 1% of students. Rocchetti is passionate about inspiring the next generation of physician leaders to transform healthcare delivery and promote equitable healthcare access for all.