Ready To Serve

Dore Gilbert, MD, caps a distinguished career in dermatology with military service—and he encourages other physicians to join him.
Dore Gilbert, MD

Public service is nothing new to Dore Gilbert, MD. His father and grandfather both served in the United States military. He served 29 years as an elected member of his local school board while building his Newport Beach, California-based dermatology practice. Well-known in the medical aesthetic community as a leader in the use of aesthetic laser technologies, Dr Gilbert is also a researcher and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California-Irvine. But even these accomplishments pale in comparison to his latest venture.
At an age when most people start looking forward to retirement, Dr. Gilbert was eyeing military service. Just shy of his 60th birthday, he became Lt. Colonel Dore Gilbert of the United States Army Reserves. “I have always wanted the opportunity to give back to my country. I was in college and medical school during and after Vietnam, and I have always felt a little guilty about that,” he says. He looked into enlisting in the 1980s and again in the 1990s, “but the rules required physicians to be mobilized for a year. I could never have kept my practice and family afloat that long in my absence,” he says. Since that time, the army has changed its mobilization policy for physicians in the reserves, now limiting deployments to four months at a time. By 2009, Dr. Gilbert’s five children were grown and his youngest son had joined the Marine Corps. His practice was secure and thriving. It was time to make the commitment.

Photography by Armando Sanchez

The Road to Enlistment

Reception area

Though the United States Army caps nonmedical enlistments at age 42, the Officer Accession Pilot Program (OAPP)—a relatively new recruitment initiative—accepts healthcare professionals from ages 43 to 60 who work in certain critical specialties. The professionals make a two-year service commitment. Dr. Gilbert has since expanded that commitment. He will serve three years active reserves and five years inactive reserves. “The military knows they need more senior doctors serving, especially those in private practice because they have such wonderful and diverse expertise and experience,” he says. “The OAPP provides a way to bring the parties together. It’s not just dermatologists. They’re looking for ER doctors, orthopedics, neurology and various surgical specialties—there are so many other physicians who could do what I’ve done, and I encourage everyone to consider it.
“As long as you’re not a felon and have a valid license to practice medicine, they will take your application,” he says. The application process can last four months to a year. Once accepted, an Army review board assigns rank based on the candidate’s education, years in practice, teaching experience, publishing credentials and other factors. Lieutenant colonel is the highest rank in the OAPP program.
Even with a specific expertise, all enlistees are required to meet certain physical fitness requirements. Dr. Gilbert had to be able to do 27 sit-ups in two minutes, 18 push-ups in two minutes, and run two miles in 19 minutes and 54 seconds. Initially, these benchmarks were challenging, but he asked for and received special permission to train with California State University (Cal State) Fullerton’s ROTC cadets.
“I received my commission and swore my oath on July 24, 2010—one of the proudest and happiest days of my life,” he says.

Head and Heart

Laser treatment room

Though the United States Army caps nonmedical enlistments at age 42, the Officer Accession Pilot Program (OAPP)—a relatively new recruitment initiative—accepts healthcare professionals from ages 43 to 60 who work in certain critical specialties. The professionals make a two-year service commitment. Dr. Gilbert has since expanded that commitment. He will serve three years active reserves and five years inactive reserves. “The military knows they need more senior doctors serving, especially those in private practice because they have such wonderful and diverse expertise and experience,” he says. “The OAPP provides a way to bring the parties together. It’s not just dermatologists. They’re looking for ER doctors, orthopedics, neurology and various surgical specialties—there are so many other physicians who could do what I’ve done, and I encourage everyone to consider it.
“As long as you’re not a felon and have a valid license to practice medicine, they will take your application,” he says. The application process can last four months to a year. Once accepted, an Army review board assigns rank based on the candidate’s education, years in practice, teaching experience, publishing credentials and other factors. Lieutenant colonel is the highest rank in the OAPP program.
Even with a specific expertise, all enlistees are required to meet certain physical fitness requirements. Dr. Gilbert had to be able to do 27 sit-ups in two minutes, 18 push-ups in two minutes, and run two miles in 19 minutes and 54 seconds. Initially, these benchmarks were challenging, but he asked for and received special permission to train with California State University (Cal State) Fullerton’s ROTC cadets.
“I received my commission and swore my oath on July 24, 2010—one of the proudest and happiest days of my life,” he says.

Deploying to Afghanistan

Dr. Gilbert Preparing for a mission

After enlisting, Dr. Gilbert hoped to be deployed to Afghanistan. He felt that he could be of value to soldiers—including his son Kevin, a corporal in the U.S. Marines—fighting in Afghanistan. “Soldiers are always getting skin diseases, especially on their feet,” says Dr. Gilbert, adding that having a dermatologist in the theater could mean the difference between having to send a soldier to Germany for treatment versus providing on-the-spot care and getting the patient back in the field in just a few days. But the one dermatology deployment available at the time Dr. Gilbert enlisted was based in Hawaii: “It sounded wonderful, but was not what I was looking for.”
When the opportunity arose to go to Afghanistan in the Fall of 2011, it was not for a dermatology deployment. Rather, Dr. Gilbert was selected to serve as a brigade surgeon. He assumed responsibility for the healthcare of more than 10,000 soldiers on the Kabul Base. “I had to ensure that all the medical assets were in the proper place at each of nine forward [operating] bases,” he explains. “You constantly have units moving in and out of the bases and some have doctors, medics or PAs attached to them and some don’t. That means there is a lot of shuffling of personnel as each unit changes locations to ensure appropriate medical coverage.”
Dr. Gilbert was also responsible for calculating the appropriate numbers of medical providers for several bases in light of the ongoing troop drawdown. “As we consolidate our forces, we will be closing some bases and relocating personnel to others,” he says. “The Army would like us to do more with less so it’s a compromise to staff all our needs.”
During his four-month deployment to Afghanistan, Dr. Gilbert went out on 18 missions to visit forward operating bases. “Usually the brigade surgeon either stays on base or just goes out a few times due to the danger, but I was aggressive about making sure things were OK at the forward bases,” he says. “When the lieutenant colonel shows up, people start hustling to get things done. I know my wife would have preferred me to stay on base but going out on those missions was the right thing to do.”
Despite his relatively short deployment, Dr. Gilbert points to several other accomplishments with pride. “I was able to start a walking blood bank. These bases are not huge, so they don’t have great storage capacity,” he says. “What if there was a mass casualty under these conditions?” Dr. Gilbert and his team recruited 100 volunteers at each base, confirmed their blood types, screened them for contagious diseases and assigned them numbers based on their blood types. “This way, they only have to remember their numbers, not whether they are A-positive or O-negative. Then we would do a drill and announce over the loudspeakers that we need numbers 32-45. Those people would come running,” he says. “Thank God we never needed it, but the system worked really well and now we have a process in place that these medical staff members can carry with them wherever they are deployed.”
He also increased the amount of training time field medics receive. “Some trained medics aren’t acting as medics because they’re needed to do other jobs. But if they’re not doing full-time medical work every year, they aren’t getting all the training they need to stay current,” says Dr. Gilbert. “I set up a program where medics work with simulation dummies every two to four months, and that is working really well.”
True to his dermatology roots, Dr. Gilbert also screened soldiers for skin cancer. “Out of 200 soldiers, we found five cancers and one severely atypical nevus that needed to be excised, plus eight or nine atypical moles that will need treatment when the soldiers get home,” he says. “Among the older soldiers in command positions, we found maybe 10 actinic keratoses, so I felt the whole effort was quite successful.”

Lt. Col. Gilbert preparing for a mission. (photo courtesy of Dore Gilbert, MD)

Father and Son

Dore and Kevin Gilbert

Among all his memories in Afghanistan, it is a personal one that stands out the most. Dr. Gilbert’s son Kevin, a Marine corporal, spent seven months leading foot patrols in the Sangin Valley searching for members of the Taliban. “His battalion had a 20% casualty rate, so every day was hard for us, wondering if today was his turn,” says Dr. Gilbert, who was granted special permission to surprise Kevin with a brief visit while in Afghanistan. He recorded the event in his ArmyStrong blog (http://armystrongstories.com/blogger/dore-gilbert/).
“I reached down as deep as I could and bellowed ‘Corporal Gilbert!!! He swung around thinking, ‘Oh crap, I must be in trouble’. Then he saw me and looked totally confused and then said ‘Holy $#@&!’
We immediately hugged and I started to cry. It was the most satisfying hug of my life...Kevin got permission to go to the mess hall where we [visited] for two hours. ...I was truly at peace for the first time in seven months...On the [flight back to my base], I realized this had been the best day of my life.”

Dr. Gilbert and his son Kevin, a Marine corporal, in Afghanistan (photo courtesy of Dore Gilbert, MD)

On the Home Front

Practice staff

Now that he’s back at his practice, Dr. Gilbert is the first to express his appreciation for the extra efforts of his family, staff and colleagues who kept Newport Dermatology & Laser Associates functioning smoothly in his absence. His wife Gloria, one of five registered nurses at the practice, managed the business in his absence. The couple’s oldest daughter, Melissa—a physician assistant—came on board to help serve patients in her father’s absence. Dermatologist Michelle Aszterbaum, MD, joined the practice in 2010. Four medical assistants and four front desk employees round out the team. “Everyone in my family and at the office has been amazing, and I don’t think I’ve lost any patients due to the deployment,” says Dr. Gilbert. “All of my patients knew I’d be gone and they were so excited for me after reading about it in the paper. Some of my cosmetic patients did wait for me to come back, and others were happy to see my daughter or one of the RNs in my absence.”
Given the intensity of his Afghanistan deployment, one has to wonder what it’s been like for Dr. Gilbert to return to business as usual. “I love talking to my patients and following their lives again,” he says. “This is my reality here and that was my reality there. One is not better; they’re just different. It’s good to be home, doing what I’m trained to do.”
That doesn’t mean the lieutenant colonel plans to hang up his boots any time soon, though. Dr. Gilbert happily accepts any and all opportunities to speak to groups and individuals about his experiences in hopes of enticing more colleagues to join him in the military. “I see part of my role in the army as trying to motivate other physicians to join the service,” he says. “There are a lot of people like me who have mature practices and are financially stable enough to do this. I want to show them it’s not too late to serve our country.”

Darcy Lewis writes about business and health care and is a frequent contributor to MedEsthetics.