Someone to look up to

It’s telling, perhaps, that one of the first things Maureen Novak, M.D., did after accepting the 2011 College of Medicine Hippocratic Award was dish out a little praise of her own.

“I am really proud of all of you in the class,” said Novak, looking toward the area where members of the graduating College of Medicine class sat. “I am shaking. Thank you so much.”

On May 3, surrounded by the lush green of Wilmot Gardens, Novak became the fourth pediatrician to receive the Hippocratic Award, widely considered one of the highest honors the graduating College of Medicine class bestows on one of its teachers each year.

Maureen Novak, M.D.,an associate professor of pediatrics and associate dean for medical education. Photo by Maria Belen Farias

The award, established by the 1969 graduating class, is meant to be given to the teacher and mentor whom students would most like to emulate. As an associate professor of pediatrics and associate dean for medical education, Novak works closely with students and maintains an “open-door policy,” helping them deal with everything from medical school crises to international outreach trips.

Graduating student Sonja Boulware remembers being impressed with Novak almost from the beginning of her first year of medical school. Back then, Novak was Boulware’s group instructor in the Interdisciplinary Family Health course. Her awe grew over the years, especially during her pediatrics clerkship when she rotated through Novak’s adolescent medicine clinic.

“Just seeing her work one-on-one with students and how she is with her patients shows what an amazing doctor and mentor she is,” Boulware said. “The best part about her is I feel like she is the same no matter what situation she is in, whether it is a lecture hall in front of 130 of us or with one of her teenage patients. You can tell she is genuine and she cares, and I think her patients can tell that, too.”

Novak has been at UF for 14 years, serving as a pediatrics clerkship director and pediatrics residency director before taking on her current role as associate dean for medical education three years ago. She also serves as medical director of the adolescent and young adult program in the department of pediatrics.

“I am thrilled she got the award,” said Reshelle Pena, also a graduating medical student. “It is always a tough choice because there are so many great teachers here. But Dr. Novak has definitely been one of the people that has not only been a great teacher, but also a great mentor and someone we can really look up to.”

It’s not the first time Novak has been honored for her role as an educator. She is a past recipient of the college’s Clinical Teacher of the Year Award, too.

“I love to teach in the context of patient care,” Novak said. “I am fortunate and blessed to be able to combine the two. It’s what I love to do.”

It’s the second year the Hippocratic Award ceremony was held in the restored Wilmot Gardens. As part of this year’s celebration, a newly planted sycamore was officially dedicated to the Hippocratic Award. The tree is a cutting from the sycamore that stands in front of Shands at UF, known as the Hippocratic tree. This tree itself was a cutting from a tree on the island of Cos under which Hippocrates supposedly once taught.

“When we planted the first tree it was a little bit shorter than that one. It came up to about my shoulder,” said Robert T. Watson, M.D., a graduate of the College of Medicine class of 1969 and former senior associate dean for educational affairs, who dedicated the new tree. “It has grown to this gigantic tree in front of Shands. In many ways, it has grown like our academic health center has grown, and of course, its growth hopefully symbolizes how we have grown as colleagues and humanistic caregivers.”