By Steve Lewis
IRVINE, CA–At age 60, when many men are starting to wind down their careers and transition toward retirement, Lt. Col. Dore Gilbert, MD, a practicing dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the University of California at Irvine, decided to follow a very different path. He joined the U.S. Army Reserve.
The physical requirements were not an issue for Gilbert, who two years later still can do 24 consecutive pull-ups and gets up every morning and does 100 push-ups and sit-ups. In his “spare time” he runs between three and six miles, three days a week.
“I’m of the philosophy that it does not matter how old you are but how old would you be?” he says. “I do not feel 62; every joint hurts, but I’m happy to be doing it.”
Gilbert has done more than serve; he has excelled. He recently received a “Members Making a Difference” award from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) for his service providing skin cancer screenings for soldiers and for his work with “Brighter Days,” a skin care program for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The award is the highest honor the academy gives to volunteers.
Lt. Col. Dore Gilbert, MD joined the Army Reserve at age 60 and has been recognized for his efforts to screen soldiars for skin cancer.
After Years, ‘The Stars Lined Up’
Gilbert says he had been thinking about serving since 1983. “I had been feeling guilty,” he confesses. “I finished my residency in 1979 and went to private practice. I missed Vietnam.” In fact, he adds, he probably did everything he could to avoid service, which led to even greater remorse.
“I looked into joining in 1983, but in those days if you were called up, you would be gone for a year,” he recalls. “I would have lost my practice and my house; my wife would not sign up for that.” So as things “percolated along,” in his words, he said he wondered what it would have been like had he served and that unanswered question continued to gnaw at him.
When his youngest son enlisted in the Marine Corps, Col. Gilbert began to think again about serving and wondered if he could still join. “I called a recruiter and found out the cutoff was age 60, and I was close to that,” he recounts. He learned that the Army had a program where, if he joined and was deployed, it would only be for a maximum of four months.
“That was doable. I could keep my practice and not have to worry about the house. So as long as my wife was OK with it, I felt it could work,” says Col. Gilbert. In addition, his daughter, now a physician’s assistant, had been working for him for a couple of years, and he had another physician who had joined the practice. “When I looked at all the stars, they lined up pretty well,” he says.Joining Reserve at 60, Dermatologist Wins Awards for Army Skin Cancer Screenings
An Administrative Role
Gilbert says he “just wanted to serve, no matter what the capacity,” and, as it turned out, his first role when he was deployed to Afghanistan was not so much clinical as administrative. “My title was brigade surgeon; I was in charge of medical care for the 10,000 soldiers in my brigade,” he explains. That covered all fields of medicine, he continues — including preventive medicine, which involved activities such as making sure that drinking water was not contaminated.
He did have the opportunity to do clinical work, however, and while he was deployed first got the idea to provide skin cancer screenings.
“I went to the general and said I’d like to do the screenings. He said it was a good idea, and off we went,” Gilbert recalls. Screening several hundred soldiers, he was able to pick up about 15 pre-cancers.
“I usually ran the clinics on Sundays; I worked 14-hour days, seven days a week” in a war zone, he says, adding, “It was just something I felt I had to do; I wanted to serve my country.”
The “Brighter Days” program, he notes, has been in operation for about five years and was started by his friend and colleague Donald Richey, MD, in Chico, CA.
“I meet with cancer patients and spend about hour explaining to them what they need to do for skin care and how it relates to what they do when they’re having chemotherapy,” he explains. “It’s very rewarding and very helpful for the patient.”
Gilbert has long-term plans for his service; he has signed a contract that extends until 2018.
“They have a two-year program, and I’d be done with it, but that didn’t seem quite long enough for me,” he says. “I love putting on my uniform.”
He is still active in his practice and drills one weekend a month. Now, he plans to go to Air Assault School, where he’s looking forward to learning how to rappel out of helicopters, explaining, “It’s kind of next on my list.”
As for those feelings of guilt, they have completely disappeared, Gilbert says. “It’s a good feeling to have.”
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