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Deaf Strong Hospital (DSH)

NEW! View pictures from past DSH events!

Volunteering for DSH DSH 2010

If you are interested in volunteering for DSH, please send an email to Steven Barnett at NCDHR.

DSH History | Reports from the Students | Publications | Presentations

What is DSH?

DSH1Deaf Strong Hospital (DSH) is a unique and visually entertaining role-reversal exercise, conducted annually in early fall, for first-year medical students from the University of Rochester's School of Medicine & Dentistry. In this role-playing exercise, the medical students become "patients" who seek medical attention from "doctors", who are members of the local Deaf Community. Overcoming and understanding communication challenges are the main objectives of this exercise. Additionally, the medical students learn that culturally Deaf people do not view themselves as "disabled".


The students are given a list of symptoms of various illnesses (fever, headache, various pains) and are instructed to go to "Deaf Strong Hospital" to receive care for their fictitious illnesses.


A model "Deaf Strong Hospital" is set up with various areas mimicking what hospitals and doctor's offices look like today, normally set up in the medical school. Students then interact with Deaf volunteers who have been trained to act as physicians and other healthcare providers (pharmacists, receptionists, dentists, etc.).


Prior to the event, the ASL alphabet is provided to the students in order to give them a starting point for communication. The students attempt to exchange scripted healthcare information with the volunteers without resorting to spoken English. They are allowed to use gestures, writing, sign language, or request an interpreter, if available.


There are approximately 105 students that enter the medical school every year at the School of Medicine & Dentistry. These students are all required to complete Deaf Strong Hospital in order to graduate from the program.

At the end of the event, the first year medical students are broken into groups and debriefed about their experiences; asking questions, listening to the experiences of the volunteers, and continuing their education in order to become more culturally competent for their future job.


DSH was also featured in a web-based story on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. To see and article on Deaf Strong Hospital, click here..


DSH History

Deaf Strong Hospital was first created by a group of medical students in September 1998. These students were a part of an organization called "PAHM-MD" (Promoting Awareness in Healthcare, Medical and Deaf), which views Deaf people as members of a linguistic minority, not as patients needing medical intervention to restore hearing. By pooling resources with the Deaf Wellness Center, DHS was conducted yearly from 1998-2002. In 2006, the Education & Training Committee of RPRC:NCDHR reactivated DSH and facilitated the 8th DSH on September 5, 2006.

Since 2006, there have been multiple DSH events held at the University of Rochester and St. John Fisher campuses. St John Fisher took an interest in DSH and contacted RPRC:NCDHR, asking if they could help facilitate DSH for their medical students. St. John Fisher College and the Deaf Health Community Committee collaborated to conduct two DSH exercises at the Wegmans School of Pharmacy in 2009 and 2011. To see an article and short video about DSH at St. John Fischer, click on the provided links. 2009 Article, 2011 Video


Reports from the students

After each DSH, a questionnaire is passed out to the participating students. The percentage of University of Rochester medical students reporting "Strong Agree" and "Agree" to the evaluation question: "My DSH experience is likely to positively impact my attitudes and behavior in future interactions with patients who do not speak English" are listed below by year:

Year Percentage Survey Set
2006 95% 98
2007 93% 91
2008 96% 100
2009 98% 100
2010 100% 101
2011 93% 98
2012 99%


Quotes from 1st year medical students

I feel this is a wonderful program and should be continued for years to come.

It was awesome - it allowed me to turn many of my experiences overseas into understanding how to take care of deaf people and the daily challenges they experience - a connection I never realized before.

The frustration you feel as a hearing person in a deaf person's world brings into sharp relief the need for patience and understanding when dealing with different individuals with different methods of communications.

Where to learn American Sign Language?!?! Immersion classes offered anywhere? The lecture was wonderful! The small group [debriefing] was VERY informative!



Thew D, Smith S, Chang C, Starr M. The Deaf Strong Hospital Program: a model of diversity and inclusion training for first-year medical students. (Article) Acad Med 2012; 87(11); 1496-1500.

Mathews JL, Parkhill AL, Schlehofer DA, Starr MJ, Barnett S. (2011). Deaf Strong Hospital: A Role-Reversal Exercise Emphasizing Cultural Competency and Awareness. (full text) American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 75(3): 53.

Richards J, Harmer L, Pollard P, Pollard R. Deaf Strong Hospital: An Exercise in Cross-Cultural Communication for First Year Medical Students (Article). J University Rochester Medical Center. 1999; spring:5-7.


Aggas J, Harmer L, Piotrowski B, Demers-Postlethwait S, Starr M, White P. Deaf Strong Hospital (DSH) 2006. (Poster) Deaf Health Poster Session, NTID Brown Bag Research Series, Rochester NY; 2007 Feb 19.