Home » News

Geisel Medical Student Sarah Howell ’26 Receives Prestigious Public Health Service Award

Given each year to medical students in recognition of their commitment to address public health issues in their communities, the distinguished U.S. Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award rewards visionary medical students who are advancing initiatives to improve public health.

Sarah Howell ’26, a rising third-year student at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, is being recognized for her work to help bridge the gap between public health and medicine. Reflecting the medical school’s ongoing commitment to support its students’ outstanding contributions to their communities—this is the tenth straight year that a Geisel student has received this award.

Sarah Howell '26
Sarah Howell '26

“It feels really nice to be recognized in this way, not just personally but to also see that our work is being acknowledged as worthwhile by the public health community,” says Howell.

Prior to coming to Geisel, she worked for three years as a high school science teacher in Brooklyn, NY. There, Howell saw firsthand the need to bring together schools and healthcare providers to improve health literacy, decrease the fear that students often feel about accessing healthcare, and enhance the ability of physicians to communicate with diverse patients.

With strong support from faculty mentor Shawn O’Leary, director of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement at Geisel, and classmate Rich Risotto ’26, who shared her vision for the project—Howell established the Dartmouth PEMI (Public Education and Medical Integration) program in 2022.

To date, PEMI has involved over 40 medical students, bringing teams into local high school and middle school classrooms in New Hampshire and Vermont to teach evidence-based and culturally relevant medical lessons on a range of topics—from understanding sleep to skin health to sex education—to more than 170 students, with plans to expand the curriculum in the future.

One of the most impressive aspects of PEMI is the amount of support that Howell and Risotto have been able to garner across the Dartmouth community. They formed an executive board of 8 medical students to help oversee their recruitment and other program activities, conduct regular training sessions to help recruits design engaging lesson plans, and assign teams for each topic who then work with physicians at Dartmouth Hitchcock to make sure their lessons are medically sound. Howell also sends out newsletters and Instagram posts to provide regular updates on PEMI.

Asked about the value and benefits of the program, O’Leary says, “I think it’s a real win on both sides—for the communities and for Geisel. We’ve gotten a number of responses from councilors and teachers at the schools saying they really love the presentations they’ve been sitting in on and hearing about.”

At the same time, he says, Geisel students are learning how to be effective and compassionate educators for their patients and communities and are getting the opportunity to mentor and inspire students who are interested in pursuing health careers, including those underrepresented in medicine.

“All of the schools we’ve been to so far have invited us back, which is awesome,” says Howell, who hopes to secure financial support for PEMI in the future. “To see that buy-in from our peers and how invested they are in being involved in medical education and public health has been wonderful—we’re very grateful for everyone’s support.”