Photos by Kurt Wehde
Marilyn Ndukwe ’23 and Maura Doré ’23, who recently graduated from Geisel School of Medicine, believe wellness is rooted in our communities and our social connections within them. As a result, their work reflects the essential task of prioritizing student wellbeing within the context of medical education.
They have advocated for medical student wellbeing since 2020, when they served together as Student Government class wellness representatives, in 2021 as wellness chairs, and then as Student Government president and vice president, respectively. They leave a legacy of achievements that include initiatives they either created, expanded, or cultivated to promote a culture of wellbeing: new gyms, lounges, and study spaces; mental health resources; expanded wellness week activities; free food initiatives such as Breakfast Fridays; and others by prioritizing the concerns of the students they represent.
One of the duo’s most ambitious projects was supporting the redesign of the student gym at Geisel’s campus at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) and a new gym at the school’s Hanover campus, in Remsen.
Their efforts, coupled with the school’s ongoing renovation plans, led to a new 24-hour access workout facility at DHMC that opened late last year. Available to all Geisel students, the gym includes two Peloton bikes with unlimited membership paid for by the medical school, a squat rack and other equipment, lockers, and showers.
The success of the that project, along with further student input, led to a new 24-hour Student Fitness Center on Geisel’s campus that opened this spring with similar equipment, including a free-to-use Peloton bike, giving students more flexibility to work out whenever it fits into their busy schedules. Later this year, an adjacent, ADA-compliant shower will be available to all Geisel community members, including faculty and staff.
Social and study spaces
Ndukwe and Doré also turned their sights to social and study spaces. Invited to collaborate with the hospital’s design team, they shared fellow medical students’ ideas about creating an environment that serves their needs while contributing to a sense of wellbeing, such as quiet, private, and small-group study spaces. The result: Borwell Student Lounge for medical students, and Zimmerman Student Lounge open to all students enrolled in Geisel degree programs. Each featuring unlimited access, comfortable furniture, and amenities, the inviting spaces are a welcome respite for busy students.
“Between surgery cases and seeing patients, students mentioned they sometimes like to do puzzles, so, we purchased full-body anatomy jigsaw puzzles for Zimmerman,” Ndukwe says. “Surgical students say that working on these puzzles is relaxing and informative and they appreciate having an option that doesn’t involve looking at a screen.”
On Geisel’s Hanover campus the remodeled prayer room, on Remsen’s second floor, spearheaded by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, opened in fall 2022. Conversations about remodeling the relaxation room, on Remsen’s third floor, are underway with completion of that project being passed on to Ndukwe and Doré’s successors. “This issue is important to us, and whether it’s inherited or passed along, these community spaces affect our community’s day-to-day wellbeing,” Ndukwe says.
Actively involved with Dartmouth College’s commitment to further address student mental health, resilience, and suicide prevention across the campus community, Ndukwe and Doré have collaborated with Matthew Duncan MED’01, an assistant professor of psychiatry and director of Student Counseling at Geisel, on a variety of issues, including the Healthy Minds
Study Survey. They contributed to survey questions relevant to medical students, then generated awareness about its importance and the related JED program.
Survey data led to a student-driven wellness working group to address medical student needs.
Also resulting from their collaboration with Duncan, medical students now have increased access to counseling and mental health resources when they are away on rotations no matter their location, and heeding student-driven discussions about making BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) resources available to students with those needs, a counselor with expertise in working with those experiencing problems related to racism has been hired. And Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app medical students have been requesting, is accessible to Geisel students free of charge through a campus wide partnership.
Care and feeding
As wellness chairs, Ndukwe and Doré initiated Free Breakfast Fridays for medical students at DHMC twice each month and at Remsen once each month, serving breakfast sandwiches from local restaurants—Marsh Brothers is a favorite.
During the height of the COVID pandemic when everyone worked long hours and Cravins’, a market and deli within DHMC, had limited hours, Ndukwe and Doré kept the Borwell Lounge supplied with protein bars, nutritious snacks, and coffee so students could focus on their clinical duties. “We received feedback about the lack of candy—everyone wanted that little sugar boost,” Ndukwe laughingly recalls.
“Giving students a respite from preparing breakfast at 4 a.m. or an opportunity to grab snacks on a quick break, allows them to share time with classmates—for me, this is fulfilling because food is community,” she says.
Making it all possible
Designed to provide funding for student projects and initiatives that promote wellness, compassion, and service, The Joseph O’Donnell, MD, ’71 Fund for Students has been invaluable. And thanks to Falen Demsas MED ’22 (former Student Government president), Ndukwe, and Doré, the Student Government wellness chair now has a seat on the fund’s review committee.
With this funding, the duo expanded Wellness Week activities to include multiple aspects of wellbeing that affect medical students’ day to day experience—whether fiscal, social, emotional, mental, or nutritional—and supported author and entrepreneur Cindy Tsai MED ’14 to lead a student session on mindfulness, managing stress, and its effect on wellbeing in the context of medicine. This year’s funding supported two Wellness Week activities—one in the fall and one in the spring.
“Connecting with other students to better understand their needs in order to advocate for an improved experience here at Geisel has been gratifying,” Doré says. “Developing working relationships with peers and members of the administration has challenged me to think beyond being a student to understand how the academic medical system works, how we fit into that system, and how to prioritize student wellbeing within medical education. Student Government has been one of the highlights of my time in medical school.”
Ndukwe's passion for problem-solving and advocacy led her to an unexpected but fulfilling path in Student Government. "In my conversations with fellow medical students, we frequently identified areas where improvements could be made in our school experience. I realized that we (the students) have the power to speak up and make a difference by addressing these concerns with the school," Ndukwe says. With this realization, she campaigned and was elected to serve in Student Government during her second year.
"Through my experience, I have developed a comprehensive approach to problem-solving and conversational negotiations that involves considering all angles before speaking up,” she says. “It also allowed me to address any biases I may have as a leader. Furthermore, advocating for my classmates has taught me the importance of prioritizing the greater good over personal interests."