P&S Award for Excellence Recipient Dodi Meyer: Passionate about Community Service

February 4, 2015

By Joseph Neighbor

Growing up next to an academic medical center known for its groundbreaking medical research and world-class physicians is no guarantee of receiving adequate health care. A child could walk past Columbia University Medical Center every day and remain invisible, especially if raised in a poor or linguistically isolated home.

Dodi Meyer, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at CUMC, has spent more than two decades trying to reach these kids, often with great success. As director of the Community Pediatrics Program in the Department of Pediatrics, she has designed and supervised scores of innovative programs that work with community groups to help these children, either by increasing the health literacy of parents or training pediatricians in overcoming cultural barriers to care. For this work, Dr. Meyer received the 2014 P&S Community Service Award of Excellence at a Jan. 29 ceremony.

“Every time I go out, every time I do a home visit, every time we visit a community-based organization, I know, ‘This is what makes me tick,’” Dr. Meyer said in her acceptance speech. “It’s what keeps me honest, keeps me humble. There’s never a time that I don’t leave these walls that I don’t get a better understanding of who I’m caring for.”

Children in Washington Heights and Inwood, where roughly two-thirds of the area’s children are born into impoverished homes, have high rates of asthma, obesity, and lead poisoning. The infant mortality rate is nearly double that of the Upper East Side. Many parents, especially those for whom English is a second language, lack the medical literacy needed to make sound decisions about their children’s health, making it difficult for them to access local services or properly administer medications.

The Community Pediatrics Program, part of the Division of Child and Adolescent Health, is the locus of efforts to alleviate community challenges. The program’s goal, according to its mission statement, is to “significantly and permanently improve how pediatricians relate to, advocate for, and remain committed to the community and the children for whom they care.” One example of the program’s outreach is the Health Education Adult Literacy (HEAL) program, which Dr. Meyer directs. Its aim is twofold:to  develop culturally responsive health education materials and to train pediatric residents, medical students, pediatricians, community volunteers, and family support workers from local community-based organizations in how to address the lack of health literacy among the underserved populations of North Manhattan.

“What we try to do every day is make the lives of the children who were born less fortunate than we were a little bit better,” says Dr. Meyer.

Problems that affect many different groups require collaboration between the medical center and the community. This is where Dr. Meyer comes in, said pediatrics chair Lawrence Stanberry, MD, PhD, Reuben S. Carpentier Professor of Pediatrics, in introducing Dr. Meyer at the awards ceremony. “She can mesmerize and inspire individuals to join her in this sort of merry band of people who come together to have a real impact on the community. It takes a team to be effective in the way Dodi has been effective. Bringing that team together, into the community, with her organizational skills has allowed her to develop numerous programs that have been documented to have an impact on the lives of the children in our community. Every day she makes a difference in the lives of children.”

Read about all of the 2014 P&S Awards for Excellence recipients.