Stan Gilbert, MD ’75: Gilbert Family Global Health Orthopaedic Fund
Stan Gilbert, MD ’75, and his wife, Sabra, love to travel. As retirees, most of their excursions these days are for leisure, but their past travels to Bolivia for medical mission work continue to inspire them and have now led them to support similar global health opportunities at UVA.
A self-described “Army brat” who spent some of his early years in Venezuela, Gilbert attended the UVA School of Medicine on an Army scholarship, graduating in 1975. He did his internship and residency in the Army, serving on active duty for two and a half years. From there, he practiced general orthopedics in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for 35 years until he retired from full-time work in 2016.
During his early years of private practice, Gilbert served in the Army Reserves and was called up for active duty during Operation Desert Storm in 1990 for about five months. “After I got back from Iraq, I was looking to do volunteer work. A colleague of mine at the hospital in Fayetteville asked me to go down to Bolivia with him,” he says. “On the first trip, there were just four doctors. The next year, it was six doctors. And it snowballed to where we would take a medical team of about eight to ten people, plus a construction work team. We went back to the same town every year, and we did that for quite a few years.”
Eventually, Sabra also joined him. “He said I could come and assist him in surgery. Not knowing what that entailed, I had to go back to school for two years,” she says. She became a surgical technologist and made several trips to Bolivia as part of the medical team.
In Bolivia, Gilbert operated on a variety of patients, but foot surgery was a common need they had. These procedures had great impact. “Bolivia is a very pedestrian society. Most people don’t have access to cars or motorized vehicles, so they walk everywhere,” he explains. “Patients would come in and say, ‘If you can give me functional feet, I can be a more functional person.’”
One such patient, a boy who needed knee surgery, would later enroll in medical school and become a doctor himself, inspired by what Gilbert had done for him. “You do things not really knowing what the ultimate outcome will be,” he says. “You hope for the best, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish. It’s just by going, helping, improving the lot of somebody. Who knows what their potential can be?”
Gilbert, who speaks Spanish, also had the opportunity in Bolivia to teach new doctors, who are required to do a year of voluntary medical work after graduating. Now, through the Gilbert Family Global Health Orthopedic Fund, he hopes to continue teaching new doctors training at UVA. The fund will provide annual global health experiences for residents of the UVA’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, including conducting medical research, providing patient care, and participating in activities and/or training under a local healthcare provider in resource-limited locations throughout the world.
“My hope is that younger doctors will get hooked on doing this like I did. It just does immense things to improve the health situation in these countries,” he says. “Yes, there are underserved parts of this country, and there are medical needs in this country that have not been addressed. But the needs in countries like Bolivia are just an order of magnitude more pressing.”
When it came to deciding where they could make an impact, the Gilberts knew that UVA’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, chaired by Bobby Chhabra, MD ’95, Res ’01, was the right place for their philanthropy. “I feel grateful to UVA for giving me the training and the opportunities that I’ve had so it’s partly just giving back,” Stan says. “It’s also knowing the people. Prior to doing this, I had gotten to know Dr. Chhabra as well as the staff, and I’m amazed at how the program has grown from when I was a student.”
Gilbert says that both he and Chhabra see global health initiatives as a valuable part of medical education. “The experience makes you adapt, and it really makes you a much more flexible surgeon, I think.”
Chhabra, who has travelled to Honduras to provide care on several occasions, is grateful for the support to provide this type of training to residents at UVA. “The Gilbert Family Global Health Orthopaedic Fund will allow all of our residents to participate in a surgical mission trip during their training and expose them to the joys of caring for those individuals who often do not have the access to health services we take for granted,” he says. “I cannot express in words how grateful I am to the Gilbert family for their philanthropic support. This gift will elevate the reputation of the UVA School of Medicine and Department of Orthopaedics and help us recruit the best residents to UVA for their orthopaedic surgery training.”