Dartmouth Ears

The name for Dartmouth Ears comes from a Buddhist tradition. "Why does the Buddha have such big ears?" Buddhas are always portrayed as having large, pendulous ears. In Western culture, small ears close to the head are thought to be the most beautiful, but in some Eastern traditions large ears are looked upon as auspicious because they indicate wisdom and compassion. So, the Buddha is depicted as having big ears because he is the compassionate one. He hears the sound of the world - hears the cries of suffering.


Dartmouth Ears is a volunteer program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH. The program pairs Geisel medical students with Dartmouth College undergraduates of the Nathan Smith Society to engage in patient visitation on inpatient floors including: Neurology, Oncology, In-patient Surgery, and Birthing Pavillion/Nursery at DHMC. Volunteers provide company for patients who need to be at the hospital for one reason or another and who, sadly, often do not have anyone to see them. Some of these patients come from very far away and/or have no immediate family in the area. We seek to help these patients by hearing their stories, offering encouragement, and just being there.

Volunteering runs from October (after a mandatory certification and orientation) through May. The certification is arranged by the DHMC Volunteer Services Office and includes a formal application to the DHMC, a criminal background check, obtaining a DHMC ID badge, immunization verification and attendance at orientation events. To ensure that volunteers have an impact on the wards and have some sort of continuity, we require a 2-term commitment during which volunteers agree to visit at least twice per month (2-4 hours). You are free to volunteer any day of the week at whatever time best suits you and your partner(s) coordinated with the DHMC and the program leaders.

Please consider applying if you have time in your schedule. Use this link. The patients love it, the nurses love it, and you get to learn about the people who live in your community while polishing your communication skills with patients. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved!

If you are interested in receiving more information or applying for this program, please email any one of our leaders:

Geisel MD/PhD Student Coordinator: Adelaide.R.Tousley.GR@dartmouth.edu

Nathan Smith Society Undergraduate Coordinator: Arvind.Suresh.19@dartmouth.edu

Faculty Advisor: Lee.A.Witters@dartmouth.edu

Volunteer stories

During my time volunteering with Dartmouth EARS, I've had the invaluable opportunity to interact with patients at DHMC. Besides having great conversations with people I would never had had the chance to interact with, EARS provided significant insight into health-care from the patients' perspective. By learning about their lives and conditions from their perspective, I began to understand that determining a diagnosis and dishing out the necessary medication is only a part of a physician's responsibilities. To comprehensively take care of a patient often times requires physicians to account for many other considerations, such as the patient's social situation, and to push themselves to explore why or how the disease/infection came about rather than only focusing on identifying and treating the patient's illness. Moreover, I recognized several important characteristics that doctors should have when dealing with patients: flexibility, open-mindedness, dependability, patience, compassion, and perhaps above all, great listening skills. Through EARS, I've had the opportunity to not only learn that the skill of listening cannot be undervalued (whether to gather patient history or simply to establish a trust with a patient) but also put that skill into practice.

My experience with Dartmouth Ears has taught me the impact that kindness and compassion can have on patients. For the past two terms I volunteered at the VA. Prior to beginning as a volunteer, I was nervous and unsure about how I would fulfill my role. I didn't know how difficult making conversation would be, what I would even talk about, and how much I would be able to have a positive effect on patients. From the very start we received positive feedback from patients, and I saw how our presence on the unit really lifted patients' spirits. Patients often complained of the monotony of the floor and expressed gratitude for having outside visitors to break up this monotony. Conversation was surprisingly easy. Some patients were more talkative than others. More social patients often inquired about our lives and were interested in hearing about Dartmouth and our future as doctors. Many patients enjoyed having someone to talk to about their current struggles and the reason for being in the hospital. I was often surprised at the very personal information that patients would disclose about their lives, including stories from their time in the service and its lasting impact, current struggles with relationships, or their feelings of depression. The process of voicing their problems seemed to be cathartic for some patients, and I believe this speaks to the value of having an unbiased listener. For patients who spoke openly about their struggles, I always offered words of encouragement, which seemed to have a positive impact. Other patients were more introverted. However, I often found that seemingly quiet patients could also benefit from talking, but needed to be approached in order to feel comfortable. I remember one patient who did not say anything for about the first half hour and did not appear to want to interact with us. In the attempt to make conversation I asked him where he was from and then told him I was from outside of Philadelphia. He immediately lit up, because he had grown up very close to where I am from. He then started talking about his childhood, which led to him discussing many other aspects of his life and his current situation. At the end of the visit he told me that I had made his week, and I could sense the improvement in his affect compared to when we first arrived. Interactions like these showed me how relating to someone on a personal level really has a positive impact and for patients who are often depressed or in distress, this is especially beneficial.

I cannot say enough about how wonderful my experience with Dartmouth Ears has been. It has been amazing way to not only learn more about patient care at DHMC, but also to build real connections with a variety of patients and learn from an inspiring MD-PhD student at Geisel. At a school where we are constantly pressured to stay busy and do activities that look great on a resume, Dartmouth Ears has been a breath of fresh air. It gives me 1-2 hours a week to remove myself from the College setting and reflect on "the big things" with the wonderful patients at DHMC. My most memorable visits have been the ones when I revisited patients from week to week, and some of them began to recognize and remember me. It was not a huge time commitment, but every visit to DHMC brightened my day and often my week. I look forward to drawing on my experiences from Dartmouth Ears as I finish my last year at Dartmouth and consider a career in health care.

Dartmouth Ears was a really great experience for me. It was unique in that I felt like I could be present for the patients and serve as an open ear. This program is unlike shadowing and it shows the more human side to medicine. All in all, a wonderful two terms.

Through Dartmouth EARS, I have cultivated a friendship with my partner (a student at Geisel), I have gotten an inside look at hospital operations, and I have developed the confidence to interact positively with people from all walks of life-all this while doing meaningful service.

I had lots of thoughts and worries on my first day of visiting patients through Dartmouth Ears. What should I talk about with patients who would be total strangers? What if I say something that's not appropriate? What is an appropriate thing to say anyway? However, it turned out that talking with patients, sharing my stories with them, and most of the times, just listening to their stories (being "ears" for them), became best part of my day whenever I went to visit patients. Most of the patients I visited were warm and open, and they had lots of awesome stories to share. Some patients got very interested when I told them that I was an international student, and I was always happy to talk about my experience and felt thankful that they were trying to understand who I am and the place I am from. At those times, "they" became the ears for me.