Meet Dan Kaser, 2008-2009 Syversten Fellow

Dan Kaser, DMS’09 has been selected as the 2008-2009 Syvertsen Fellow. In June 2008, Kaser and five of his classmates were chosen by
the Syvertsen Scholarship Committee to receive the annual distinction of Syvertsen “Scholars.”  The endowed awards honor the memory of Rolf C. Syvertsen, a former professor of anatomy, long-time dean, and beloved mentor of several generations of medical students at Dartmouth, who died in 1960.

In selecting the Syvertsen Fellow from among the Syvertsen Scholars, the Syvertsen Scholarship Committee uses criteria that reflect what Syvertsen worked so hard to foster in the students of his day and what “Sy” himself embodied: academic excellence, breadth of human concern, community spirit, selfless mentoring of other students, and a deep love of medicine and of sharing their knowledge of it. Read our profle of Dan Kaser below and learn why he is so deserving of this special distinction.

Syvertsen Fellow Embraces Exploration and Discovery
“My years at Dartmouth have been a great experience and have really shaped the type of doctor I want to be,” says Dan Kaser, DMS’09. Kaser came to DMS in August of 2004 intending to pursue a career in infectious disease. But when he graduates in June, he plans to follow a different path, one that will further both his commitment to working with the underserved and the passion he has discovered for obstetrics and gynecology. “It was definitely an unexpected choice for me,” he reflects of his decision to go into ob/gyn, the result of a third-year clerkship.

It is that open-mindedness, and the zeal with which he embraces and learns from new experiences, that have characterized his medical school years. Following his first year at DMS, Kaser spent the summer at the DarDar Clinic  in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Funded by a Dartmouth International Health Group (DIHG) fellowship, “I went over with a video camera, a microphone, and a Swahili dictionary.  The end result was a short documentary about the clinic there, used for fundraising and patient recruitment,” he explains. “I had a really fantastic, eye-opening experience in Africa. I came away knowing I wanted to continue international work that improves access to care.”

The experience prompted him to take a year off from medical school to do an internship with Doctors Without Borders in New York City to learn more about bringing medical care to resource-poor settings around the world. At the same time, he immersed himself in drawing and printmaking classes. “I’ve always had an interest in the arts,” he explains. “From a very young age my two brothers and I grew up taking art classes at a local community arts center where my mother was director. I mainly do ceramics, painting and drawing.”

Kaser spent the last few months of that year on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota, helping to run a health camp for Native American teenagers. “Again, it was a very formative experience. I think we had as much to learn from the campers as they did from us. In Africa I had seen gross disparities in access and quality of health care. I hadn’t expected to find similar disparities in our own country. It taught me that you don’t have to travel half way around the world to find these gaps in care.”

Kaser returned to DMS with a renewed sense of purpose and a commitment to working with underserved populations. “It was a tremendous year for me and I felt like I grew a lot.”

The artist in him has also found outlets at DMS. With an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, he developed an Arts in Medicine curriculum for DMS. He teaches figure drawing to first and second year students, and helped develop an elective workshop called The Art of Observation with the Hood Museum, using the medium of art to help students hone their observational skills. He has also worked directly with inpatients at DHMC on art projects in an effort to “get them thinking outside of the confines of their hospital rooms and illnesses.”

In all these endeavors, Kaser has appreciated what he describes as the “culture of support” at DMS. “The faculty and administration have supported me and my classmates in developing our own interests and pursuing projects that we felt to be meaningful. It’s a very nurturing environment that encourages people to give back to the community in important ways. This supportive mindset is what I’ll remember about Dartmouth.”

Of being named this year’s Syvertsen Fellow, Kaser says, "It's really an honor to receive this award that recognizes a man who was so beloved by past generations of students, and who left such a lasting legacy here at DMS.”

February 2009