By Abigail Miller
When Amelia Rooks met Maureen Novak, M.D., they were at opposite ends of a stethoscope.
At the time, Novak was a University of Florida Health pediatrician and Rooks was visiting the clinic for a routine checkup. They quickly clicked.
“By being the kind, funny, candid person she is, she almost immediately became a role model to me,” Rooks said.
More than that, Novak, now a professor of general pediatrics at the UF College of Medicine and the associate dean for medical education, was an inspiration. Rooks credits their doctor-patient relationship with setting her on the path to a medical career.
They now have come full circle: Rooks soon will begin a residency in pediatrics at UF and will train under Novak in the same clinic where they first met.
“I look up to her immensely,”she said. “She was one of the reasons I decided to pursue medicine in the first place.”
Rooks is among the countless medical students whose lives Novak has touched in her nearly 20 years at the UF College of Medicine. This year, Rooks and her fellow classmates chose to thank Novak in the best way they could, by selecting her for the annual Hippocratic Award.
The honor is given by the college’s graduating class to a faculty member who they feel exceptionally represents the ideal role model and embodies professionalism, humanism and teaching prowess. Novak also won the award in 2011.
“Oh, it’s only because the students know me,” Novak joked as she spoke about the repeat honor. “ There are lots and lots and lots of deserving people who, based on their everyday interactions with patients and families, are much more deserving but they just don’t have the contact. I have a lot of student contact.”
During a ceremony at UF’s Wilmot Gardens, UF College of Medicine Dean Michael L. Good, M.D., said Novak serves as a role model for her students.
“This is the most highly coveted award by the faculty,” he said.
“To be recognized by your students is indeed what it’s all about.”
Novak joined the college’s general pediatrics division in 1997 as the head of the adolescent and young adult program. In 2005, she became residency program director, a title she would hold for the next five years. All of the positions she has held at UF have given her the opportunity to do what she loves best: be with students.
“Seeing students who help me remember what it’s like to be learning, to struggle and to see them then succeed and be all that they can be, and then hear their success as they leave us or stay with us or come back to us, that’s really cool,’’ she said.
Former student Kimberly Papa said she really got to know Novak when the pediatrician organized a medical mission trip to Nicaragua for the senior class, something she does each year with her husband, Donald Novak, M.D., who is a pediatrics professor at the UF College of Medicine and vice chair for clinical affairs, quality and safety in the pediatrics department.
“I loved watching her interact with the children in Nicaragua,” Papa said. “Some children she has seen every year for their whole lives and the families recognize her.”
Papa said her admiration for Novak transcends her professional persona.
“Dr. Novak is so free-spirited,” she said. “She is also the funniest teacher I have encountered at UF College of Medicine, with her husband being a sarcastic close second. Their occasional banter and bickering left us on the floor laughing!”
Novak said some of the most rewarding moments she has experienced while teaching are the times when her students teach her.
“I’ve learned some really incredible things from them, from life skills to simple things,’’ she said. “Like I’ll never forget learning lefty loosey, righty tighty on how to tighten things up from a student.”