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The next best thing to mom

Dick's House delivers home-style health care to students

Since 1927, Dartmouth students have found a home away from home at Dick's House, a place of refuge, comfort and medical treatment when illness strikes. Today's Dartmouth Health Service, still located at Dick's House, has evolved to combine health awareness programs and preventive medicine resources with quality medical care, according to its director, Dr. John "Jack" Turco.

Jack Turco  with peer advisors Todd Golden '06 and Carrie Rooke '06
Jack Turco (center) in his office at Dick's House with peer advisors Todd Golden '06 (left) and Carrie Rooke '06 (right). (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Dick's House is named in memory of Richard Drew Hall '27, who died of polio during his sophomore year. His parents built Dick's House so students could find care and nurturing in a home-like environment. Nearly 80 years later, it retains its comfortable quality. The modern focus on wellness, said Turco, has its roots in the late 70s, when personal wellbeing and self-help came into style.

"In 1977, counseling services were brought under Dick's House management," he said, "and two years later we initiated a disease prevention program. We've continued to add programs and services that meet the complexity and variety of student needs. We want to help and support students so they live long and healthy lives."

The Health Service now encompasses such departments as sports medicine, women's health and counseling and human development. Services range from X-rays and dermatology clinics to an on-campus pharmacy and flu shots. A health resources department focuses on programs concerning alcohol and drug abuse, sexual assault, stress management, smoking cessation, eating disorders and nutrition. Many offerings for students are led by peer advisors, who are trained by Dick's House staff. Turco acknowledged the support of alumni, particularly the Class of 1977, who help fund many important programs and services. In fact, Dartmouth's Health Service and its 10-bed infirmary were mentioned in a March 2005 New York Times article as a counter example in a story about diminishing medical services at some colleges and universities.

"We've continued to add programs and services that meet the complexity and variety of student needs. We want to help and support students so they live long and healthy lives."

- Dr. John "Jack" Turco

Turco, Director since 1981, works hard to promote the Health Service to students. In a student satisfaction survey conducted last spring, 80 to 90 percent of those who responded felt they got good care. The biggest surprise, he said, was that students didn't realize the breadth of services available.

"We're still analyzing the survey data, but we know that educating students about how to use our services is one of our priorities," said Turco.

Turco points out that college age students, transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, are now responsible for their own medical care, often for the first time in their lives. The Health Service provides support during this sometimes difficult period. Making the services accessible is central to Turco's mission.

"I want to make sure that we have a safe environment for students to explore their health concerns. We host activities around mental health awareness day and eating disorders awareness day to introduce students to these serious issues, and we provide confidential counseling to anyone who wants more information, treatment or a referral, if necessary."

The complexity of medical issues keeps the staff at Dick's House on its toes. With better medications available, many students who might never have considered college due to a chronic illness, such as depression, are now regular visitors to the Health Service. And students today are global travelers who sometimes face a variety of diseases, from SARS to malaria.

"We also need to remember that we serve diverse students, many of whom are from different cultures," said Turco. "We need to be aware of and be sensitive to the needs of students who are used to different medical practices and traditions."

He said that the future of college health services in general, and at Dartmouth in particular, will only grow more complex and diverse. He and his colleagues regularly tackle such issues as insurance plans and costs, subcontracting and cost cutting, and other difficult topics. The kinds of services that Dick's House offers might evolve, said Turco, but the basic tenet will remain the same: quality student health care in a welcoming environment.

By SUSAN KNAPP

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Last Updated: 5/30/08