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Dean Seibert, M.D.: First aid
When Dr. Dean Seibert arrived in Shkodra, Albania, in 1998, there were 28,000 Kosovar refugees in and around the city. The conditions there were appalling, Seibert later commented. A former tobacco warehouse, for example, was the only home for 5,000 refugees who were crammed into the building with nothing more than plastic drapes for privacy.
"Everywhere, there was anxiety and profound depression that we could do little to alleviate," Seibert wrote in an essay for the Spring 2000 issue of Dartmouth Medicine. Many of the medical problems "were mundane, others were not. People with chronic illnesses had had no medications for months. Cancer patients had postponed treatment for disfiguring and potentially lethal skin lesions out of fear of the Serbian Kosovar medical establishment. . . . Many of the men were just out of Serbian prisons, where they had been systematically beaten, forced to beat one another, and psychologically brutalized," Seibert lamented.
An associate professor emeritus of medicine at DMS, Seibert was not new to international relief work. In 1998, he'd volunteered extensively in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch. But Mitch was a natural disaster. In Albania, people, not nature, were doing horrific things to other people. Seibert returned from Albania about as depressed and unhappy with humanity as he had ever felt.
A few months later, he had an opportunity to return to the region on behalf of DMS, which was trying to establish a formal collaboration with the medical school at Kosova's University of Prishtina. The trip was a wonderfully healing experience for Seibert, he says, because by then refugees were flooding back into Kosova. Families and friends were reuniting, and it looked like there might be a future ahead of them, even though the region had been devastated. Looking back, Seibert is happy he could be part of the aid effort and part of establishing a lasting partnership between the Prishtina school and DMS. From his earliest days at Dartmouth, he has helped to bring a more global orientation to the Medical School and its students.
Seibert was hired by Dartmouth Medical School in 1965 as an instructor in medicine and the director of graduate medical education. He was familiar with the School from having done a fellowship in hematology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock from 1961 to 1963. (He'd earned his M.D. at Albany Medical College in 1958 and completed his residency at Albany Medical Center in 1961. In 2004, he was the recipient of his alma mater's
Humanitarian Award.) After completing the fellowship, Seibert worked for a few years at the National Cancer Institute and then served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service from 1963 to 1965.
Shortly after joining the DMS faculty, Seibert was named assistant dean, then associate dean, for regional affairs—a position he held for 15 years. In that role, he helped establish a regional ambulance service and headed DHMC's Interact—a closed-circuit television network that allowed health-care and social-service
providers throughout the region to communicate with each other. Because of his experience with Interact, Seibert was asked in 1976 to consult on a similar program based at an Indian reservation in Tuba City, Ariz.
That program, led by the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was aimed at developing a communication system to link various far- flung communities on the reservation to a central facility in Tucson. (NASA's interest in the project stemmed from the agency's anticipated need to deliver medical care over vast distances.) Seibert helped set up a mobile health clinic that used a microwave system to transmit both voice and images in real time to Tucson—nothing radical now but a very advanced concept back then.
While in Arizona, Seibert visited the Navajo reservation "in hopes of establishing an affiliation for [DMS] with one of the IHS hospitals," he later recalled. "The first facility I visited was the one at Tuba City, where I discovered that the director was a DMS alumnus, Dr. John Porvaznik '56. It was the start of a very productive relationship." Seibert and Porvaznik encountered some resistance at DMS to the idea of collaboration, due to the site's remote location. But they persisted and, in 1977, established a primary-care clerkship in Tuba City for DMS students. Over the next 20-plus years, Seibert continued to visit the hospital there, and the clerkship is still thriving today.
Seibert has helped to create volunteer opportunities for DMS students in Honduras, too, through two organizations—one called Americans Caring Teaching Sharing (ACTS), that is currently based in the Upper Valley, and another called Ohiyesa, that he founded with another DMS faculty member, Dr. John Lyons. About 12 years ago, ACTS invited Seibert to work in a village in the mountains of Honduras. Seibert has been going regularly to Honduras ever since and taking DMS students with him. Ohiyesa (which is named in memory of a Sioux alumnus of Dartmouth College who became a doctor) supports students who want to provide medical care to underserved people and bridge cultural barriers. Ohiyesa has funded most of the
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Roger Smith is a professor emeritus of pharmacology and toxicology at Dartmouth Medical School. He writes regularly for the "Vital Signs" and "Discoveries" sections of Dartmouth Medicine. See here in this issue for another sample of his work.