Dr. Denise Rodgers, MD Vice Chancellor for Interprofessional Programs at Rutgers Biomedical & Health Sciences and chair of the Healthy Newark Medicaid ACO, has been honored with The Healthcare Foundation of NJ’s Lester Z. Lieberman Legacy Award for Humanism in Healthcare. Given only twice before, the Legacy Award recognizes individuals with unparalleled, career-long dedication to humanism.
In accepting her award, Dr. Rodgers spoke powerfully about the role that poverty and racism play in the health of individuals. She cited the statistical disparities in life expectancy and incidence of heart disease and cancer between high income and low income groups, and the further discrepancies between African Americans and whites within income groups, and called on everyone present to join in the fight to eliminate poverty in America.
At a time when few African American women were practicing physicians, Dr. Rodgers was determined to become a family physician helping the poor and underserved. Family medicine would enable her to take care of people throughout their lives, tending to their illnesses and providing preventive care and healthy living education. Practicing in clinics – which she has done exclusively throughout her career – put her in contact with the people she most wanted to help.
Dr. Rodgers came to NJ in 1996 to serve as Senior Associate Dean for Public Health at the RWJ Medical School, where she oversaw the Chandler Clinic and was involved in creating Healthy New Brunswick 2010. She went on to become the last president of UMDNJ prior to its merger with Rutgers.
In presenting Dr. Rodgers with her award, HFNJ Executive Director/CEO Marsha Atkind praised her ability to focus on the needs of individuals and to simultaneously think about and understand the larger context of their lives. “Denise has a thoroughly impressive record of academic and professional accomplishment,” she said, “but what makes her so special to us is her way of touching people’s lives again and again and again.”