‘Gap Year’ Prescription for the Doctor

   Dr. Dennis R. Sinar’s 2007-08 sabbatical ‘Gap Year’ was well deserved after 26-years of service at ECU Brody School of Medicine. His year of rebirth took him to Alaska, Thailand, Nepal, Lambertville, NJ, and Romania for manual labor in areas foreign to his expertise in gastroenterology. The experience has strengthened his desire to travel and discover new ventures in retirement.

Born in Elyria, Ohio, Dennis gathered a biology degree at Marquette University in Milwaukee, before earning his medical license at Ohio State University. Teaching and research dominated his career in Ohio, California, and Maryland before coming to ECU School of Medicine in 1981. Along the way, Dennis had a son Evan who is now an internal consultant living in Pittsburg, PA with 2 children.

Beginning as an Associate Professor of Medicine in Gastroenterology, Dennis held a range of positions at ECU including Interim Medical Director, Associate Dean for Informatics, Adjunct Professor of Physics, Gastroenterology Fellowship Director, and Medical Director of GI Endoscopy Labs. He maintained a patient care practice during his entire supervisory and teaching career.

“I think everyone in his heart of hearts has some things they have always wanted to do but for one reason another never does,” Dennis says as he talks about his Gap Year. ”I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone, a place where I could labor hard and feel the effect of an entirely new culture.”

Common among graduating college students who want to experience life in unfamiliar places before proceeding with a career, gap years are less common among seasoned professionals. Having endured 26-years of teaching and patient care, Dennis sought the help of the Center for Interim Programs in Princeton, NJ in arranging an “escape” that is chronicled in his blog at www.year-of-adventure.typepad.com.

His structured year included two months’ work as an artistic stone mason apprentice in rural Alaska, followed by two months of Tibetan and Ayurvedic medical training and clinic work, two weeks refinishing furniture in New England, and finally two months on an Archaeology research project in Romania. His seven months of adventure were separated by weeks at home with Kathryn, his partner of 10 years.

While the physical stress of hauling and laying stones on an Alaskan cabin construction project was difficult, Dennis says “Going to Nepal was the toughest thing I have ever done.”  “The poverty, the culture shock, and being so much on the outside” overwhelmed his senses as he worked alongside a Tibetan healer. “This man’s only diagnostic tool was a 45-second checking of the pulse accompanied by an intense visual examination.”

At one point, the healer turned his attention on Dennis and “diagnosed hypertension, neck pain, and stomach reflux. To this day, I don’t know what clues that healer used to make such true and precise diagnoses.”

At a clinic, Dennis studied Ayurvedic medicine, “which blends some western methods with the traditional Tibetan.”  He says, “Our approach to medicine is mechanistic, but in Nepal a more naturopathic, holistic, diet-inclusive approach is designed to maintain body balance. We have a lot to learn from these alternative techniques of healing.”

In his final adventure, Dennis refinished furniture in Lambertville, New Jersey before going to a Romanian archaeology dig where he sifted through the remains of the 14th century while learning the lore of Dracula.

When he returned to practicing gastroenterology, Dennis saw patients three days a week. He relates, “Am I different? Oh, yes. I understand my patients more thoroughly. I listen harder to the stories they tell, I see the background, and I search more for the story untold. I am a better healer for the experience.”

Dennis retired in 2010 with 30-years of service at East Carolina University Medical School.

Writing has always been required in the medical profession. Accurate multi-page patient medical histories filled Dennis’s medical training while his Curriculum Vitae list pages of his publications: medical journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and educational films.

After retirement, writing became one of his passions. He explored local venues for writing a murder mystery but settled on a current project of a “tourist-informational-passage book about Yankees who move to eastern NC.” His idea is to follow newcomer adventures in discovering the South, Washington, and the Pamlico River.

Dennis recently joined The Pamlico Writers Group and read two chapter excerpts of his new book. “The PWG has been fantastic!” he exclaims. Presenting works to the group, “in my mind that is what a writers group should be – a seed for ideas and quality.”

Please read some of Dennis’s work on his author page at http://pamlicowritersgroup.org.


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