Gift Supports Launch of Healthy Students, Healthy Physicians Program at Geisel

A $2 million gift from an anonymous Dartmouth College alumnus and his spouse will provide essential funds for a new comprehensive mental health and wellness program for medical students at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. The Healthy Students, Healthy Physicians program, launched in late 2019, is a top priority for Geisel, has a fundraising goal of $5 million, and is part of The Call to Lead campaign.

“We want Dartmouth to be a national leader in preparing medical students to meet the stresses and challenges of their profession without sacrificing their own mental health and wellbeing,” said Duane Compton, PhD, Dean of the Geisel School of Medicine. “We are grateful to these donors for their generosity and leadership in supporting this vision. And we hope their gift will inspire other donors to support this pioneering program.”

“This gift will help plant the seeds of cultural change within the practice of medicine,” said Matthew Duncan, MD, MED ’01, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Geisel and leader of the program. “We want to create a community in which developing resilience is part of physician training and seeking mental healthcare is seen as a sign of strength and not a personal weakness or professional liability.”

Matthew Duncan MED ’01, assistant professor of psychiatry, and Julia Berkowitz MED ’20, who helped develop assessment tools for the program. Photo: Mark Washburn

National statistics show that nearly one-third of medical students report symptoms of depression and related illness, and one in ten have considered suicide. These higher-than-average rates persist throughout residency and physicians’ careers, and have a direct impact on patient care, according to several studies.

Geisel is committed to training “the complete physician”—physicians who provide medically excellent care, are highly compassionate, and committed to improving the systems in which they work.

“We recognize that student wellness is foundational to achieving that goal,” said Compton. “Creating a more positive, supportive learning environment and providing resources to manage the unique demands of medical school and the clinical work of doctoring are essential to student wellness.”

This is especially important for students from groups that are underrepresented among physicians and within many elite universities and medical schools. For example, students who identify as Black, Latinx, indigenous, and other minority ethnic, racial, gender, sexual, and disability identities often face additional stressors and bias in academic communities. Geisel recently added a mental health counselor with experience in race-based trauma and the mental health impacts of structural racism. Geisel students also have access to counselors at Dartmouth’s Dick’s House who have such expertise.

Healthy Students, Healthy Physicians will provide a variety of trainings for medical students, faculty, and staff and—most importantly—mental health screening and increased access to individual and group counseling for students at no cost to them. The $2M gift will also support further expansion of Geisel’s wellness and resiliency programming.

Initial data and survey results gathered since the launch in 2019 demonstrate the need for counseling services and a high level of satisfaction among students. More than 70 medical students (about 17% of all Geisel medical students) have received confidential counseling through the program so far, and most indicated that they are very likely to recommend Geisel counseling to a classmate (the average score is 9.54, with 10 being “extremely likely”).

Duncan sometimes uses an athletics analogy to explain the importance of mental health supports for medical students. “If you recruit a top athlete, you provide them with athletic trainers and supports to help them keep their bodies in peak physical condition,” explained Duncan. “Likewise, we want to provide medical students with mental health supports and resiliency training to help them navigate the stresses of medical school and perform at their very best throughout their careers—which benefits everyone, especially their patients.”

About the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Founded in 1797, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth strives to improve the lives of the communities it serves through excellence in learning, discovery, and healing. The Geisel School of Medicine is renowned for its leadership in medical education, health care policy and delivery science, biomedical research, global health, and in creating innovations that improve lives worldwide. As one of America’s leading medical schools, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine is committed to training new generations of diverse leaders who will help solve our most vexing challenges in health care.