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Sy Legacy Supports Today's Students

Dr. Rolf Syvertsen, seen here in an undated photograph, watched over Dartmouth medical students for four decades.

By Jennifer Durgin

Stories about former dean Dr. Rolf Syvertsen are legendary among medical school alumni who graduated in the 1950s. And it's largely through the generosity of alumni, young and old, that the Syversten legacy and—more importantly—the values Syvertsen imparted to students live on.

In one of the stories, Dean Syvertsen began a lecture and then noticed that one of his brightest students, Edward Horton (Med '55), was missing. "He said, 'Where's Horton?'" recalls Donald Brief (Med '55), a donor to the Syvertsen Fund. "One of the guys said, 'He's back at the AKK house; he's sick.' So the Dean said, 'Stay here.' He ran out, and we heard his car starting up. About 20 minutes later, he came back and said, 'What kind of doctors are you? I just took him up to the infirmary with a temperature of 104!'"

Caring well for each other is one of the many lessons that Syvertsen conveyed to the hundreds of medical students he taught between 1923 and 1960. In the 1980s, a small group of alumni led by Fletcher McDowell (Med '45) established the Rolf C. Syvertsen Memorial Fund, to honor the professor's remarkable contributions. Today, Syvertsen's legacy lives on through scholarships from the fund and the Syvertsen Scholars and Fellow awards, given every year to select students. The awards recognize scholastic excellence, a love of medicine, and a commitment to serving others—the best of the Sy tradition. A recent effort led by John Moran (Med '55) seeks to grow the fund and strengthen the impact it will have on students in the future.

2016-17 Syvertsen Scholars

The 2016-17 Syvertsen Scholars have made important contributions to their communities, in addition to achieving academic excellence.

Their activities include creating wellness classes for the elderly, founding a health clinic at a soup kitchen, piloting a new electronic medical record for a free health clinic, tutoring other medical students and undergraduates, analyzing complex laboratory data, spearheading a leadership curriculum for Geisel, serving on the Geisel admissions committee, and much more.

  • Erik Andrews ('17)
  • Kimberly Betts ('17)
  • Alicia Dagrosa (MD-MBA '17)
  • Nicole Moraco ('17)
  • Geoffrey Noble (MD-PhD '17)
  • Rachel Brickman ('17), who received the additional honor of being named the 2016-2017 Syvertsen Fellow.

For Ted Gasteyer (Med '55), who recently made his fourth generous gift to the Syvertsen Fund, a different "Sy" story has stuck with him over the years. Gasteyer remembers being a first-year medical student and responding to one of the professor's oral test questions in gross anatomy. In seconds, Syvertsen posed yet another, more pointed question: "Are you sure?"

"He looked at me over those little half-glasses perched on his nose—right in the eye—and repeated: 'Are you sure?'" Gasteyer recalls.

At the time, he didn't feel 100 percent sure of anything. But he understood the lesson that Syvertsen was conveying. Physicians have to make a lot of decisions, and if they've researched a problem well, they should be confident in those decisions.

"He had high expectations for students, and he wanted students to succeed,"says Gasteyer.

Helping today's students succeed and honoring those students who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to their community, to medicine, and to scholarly excellence, is what inspires Gasteyer and his fellow alumni to give to the Syvertsen Fund.

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