October 17, 2008

Award honors Norden’s compassion curriculum

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Jeanette Norden, Ph.D.

Award honors Norden’s compassion curriculum

Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and a Master Science Teacher at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, recently received a Compassionate Friends Professional Award from The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a national support group for families who have lost a child.

The awards are given to a professional psychologist, counselor or other practicing professional who has contributed in the area of supporting, assisting and educating others about dealing with loss.

Gina Frieden, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Development and director of the Human Development Counseling Program at Peabody College, also received an award.

Norden, a neuroscientist, incorporates first-person accounts of dealing with brain-related illnesses into the neuroscience course for medical students. She refers to the visits from members of the community as ”Personal Hours.”

For example, in Norden's instruction on brain tumors, two couples from TCF, whose children had brain tumors, talk to the class about their hospital experiences, both good and bad.

She also invites a physician, who is a member of TCF, to speak about the major changes in his own approach to medicine after the death of his son, thus giving the students a broader picture of the doctor/patient relationship.

Following the parents' appearances at these classes, the students write letters to them expressing their appreciation, their sympathy, and telling some of the most valuable things they have learned.

“Professionals like Dr. Norden and Dr. Frieden, who shape the minds of today's students and tomorrow's medical professionals, do a great service by allowing our future doctors to understand the importance of compassion when the medical community works with bereaved families following the death of a child,” said Patricia Loder, TCF executive director.

This isn't the first award Norden has won for her unique teaching approach — she was also honored by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Medical Honor Society Alpha Omega Alpha in 2000, with the Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teacher Award, the top national award for medical education.

To prepare herself for this angle of instruction, Norden enrolled in grief and addiction counseling courses in Peabody College's Human Developmental Counseling program.

Norden says her goal in incorporating grief and loss issues into the course was “to empower the students; to let them know that the kindness, compassion and caring they show during and following a death will forever be a part of the families' memory of their loved one.”