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Bonita Stanton, M.D., the founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine whose visionary leadership helped launch the first private medical school in New Jersey in almost 50 years, died on Jan. 19 at age 70.

A pediatrician and infectious disease specialist, Stanton was also an influential educator and researcher whose work as a principal investigator as funded by the National Institutes of Health for decades. Stanton also authored more than 350 peer-reviewed manuscript and edited several textbooks, including the Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, the so-called bible of pediatric medicine.

Stanton’s legacy includes the transformation of the former Hoffmann-La Roche Pharmaceuticals site in Nutley into a state-of-the-art medical school campus for the new Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, which admitted its first students in 2018. NJBIA recognized that project with its  2020 NJBIA New Good Neighbor Award.

In an interview with NJBIA in 2020, Stanton reflected on the work of creating a 21st century medical school that would reinvent medical education to improve healthcare outcomes.

“Our overarching vision is that every person in New Jersey will have the same access to health and well-being regardless of race or socio-economic status,” Stanton said in 2020. “It’s wonderful to start a new medical school because when you do that you can build every aspect of that school on your vision…”

Stanton had always said that her experiences as a young doctor working in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she spent five years saving lives through the prevention and treatment of diarrheal diseases, guided her life’s work to eliminate disparities in health outcomes based on race and ethnicity. Stanton believed that training future physicians to understand the social determinants of health would improve outcomes for generations of patients.

In addition to the distinctions that she earned as a health investigator living and working in Bangladesh, her research in global HIV prevention also earned her accolades. She made major research contributions toward global HIV prevention and was continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health as a principal investigator for the 25 years from 1991 to 2016.

“Bonnie’s exceptional career truly helped transform health care,” said John “Skip” Williams, chairman of Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine’s board of governors.

Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, the CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, said the Hackensack Meridian Health family had lost a beloved leader and friend.

“The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, Hackensack Meridian Health, and all of us who knew her and worked closely with her will honor Dean Stanton’s memory by continuing to build on her exceptional legacy,” Garrett said.

Stanton received her medical degree from the Yale University School of Medicine and completed her residency at the University Hospitals of Cleveland and at Yale. She served on the faculty of the University of Maryland, West Virginia University, and Wayne State University in Michigan prior to coming to New Jersey in 2016 to establish the new medical school.

Funeral arrangements are private. In lieu of flowers, Stanton’s family has requested that donations be made to the Bonita F. Stanton, MD Scholarship Fund.