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Norden’s teaching career celebrated

Jul. 18, 2013, 8:39 AM

Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., right, is surrounded by School of Medicine students at a gathering in April celebrating her teaching career. (photo by Anne Rayner)

The retirement of Master Science Teacher Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, after more than 40 years with Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, marks the end of an educational era.

Norden, the neurosciences/neuroanatomy course director (now called Brain and Behavior) at the School of Medicine for the last three decades, is commonly cited as one of the school’s most effective and influential educators.

“Jeanette has been an exemplar for all of our faculty members who strive for excellence in their teaching. She has been ultimately concerned with the welfare of our students and their future patients. She truly wants students to consider the whole person who deals with disease of the nervous system, and not just disease mechanisms,” said Bonnie Miller, M.D., senior associate dean for Health Sciences Education.

Norden, who also serves as academic advisor for second year students, was selected three times for the Shovel Award, given by members of the fourth year class to a faculty member who has had a positive and meaningful influence on their lives and education, and has received numerous other teaching awards.

“When she teaches, there is a sense that she has a lot of people that matter to her and she encourages us to have meaningful relationships,” said Billy Sullivan, M.D., a member of the class of 2013, who also received a master’s degree in Education from Peabody.

“She commonly brings patients to class as part of the teaching, and then she has us all write thank you notes afterward. Whenever I have to present or teach I think about how she would do it and try to model after her.”

Scott Rodgers, M.D., associate dean for Medical Student Affairs, was taught by Norden as part of the class of 1994. He says Norden always faces her audience without aid of PowerPoint presentations or electronics of any sort, and that is part of her success.

“She loves to tell stories about patients and is one of the few people with the natural teaching talent to engage people for a four-hour block. But more than that, she wants students to maintain a level of compassion. She is one of those stabilizing forces who understands students came here because they want to connect with patients,” Rodgers said.

Derek Riebau, M.D., who has taught alongside Norden for the last nine years, calls her the most dedicated and effective teacher he has known.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to work with her and learn from her. Her love of the students and their future patients is unmatched. She never rests on her laurels or accomplishments as a recognized teacher of excellence, but continuously critiques her own material and lecture content to make sure that the next lecture she gives is more relevant and informative than the last.

“She works tirelessly to offer the best opportunities for her students to learn because she has a genuine recognition that their future patients’ lives and well-beings are at stake,” Riebau said
Norden said as an educator, she has always tried to keep her focus on the students and feels it has been an honor to teach them about the brain and about how to apply their knowledge to the diagnosis and treatment of patients who suffer from neurological disease.

“I have cared for and loved the students. This is what has guided my teaching. I have also tried to model by my relationship with them, as the kind of relationship I want them to have with their patients. I shall miss teaching them about the most awesome structure in the human body.”
Norden was honored with a celebration by the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology in late June to thank her “for 40 years of research and training, teaching and mentorship, compassion and kindness.”

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