In the 1980s, Dr. Robert Gilbert was studying to become a pathologist like his father when he decided to follow a different path. He loved science but wanted something more. “I realized I preferred to see patients and take care of them,” he said.

Published Jul 12th, 2019

By Carol McPhail

In the 1980s, Dr. Robert Gilbert was studying to become a pathologist like his father when he decided to follow a different path. He loved science but wanted something more. “I realized I preferred to see patients and take care of them,” he said.

That path led the Johns Hopkins graduate through medical school, residency and a radiation oncology fellowship at Baylor University in Houston. Gilbert recently returned to academic medicine by joining USA Health, where he serves as a board-certified radiation oncologist at the Mitchell Cancer Institute in Mobile.

After decades in the business, the Georgia native says he continues to find oncology very rewarding. “We’re helping people through what for many of them and their families is the worst time of their lives,” he said. “I get a lot of satisfaction watching something positive come out of a cancer journey. That’s why I chose this field.”

As a radiation oncologist, Gilbert works with interdisciplinary teams of medical oncologists, nurse navigators, clinical trials specialists and others to map out treatment plans for patients.

“Dr. Gilbert brings a wealth of experience from this community and a true passion for caring for cancer patients,” said Dr. Rodney P. Rocconi, interim director of the Mitchell Cancer Institute. “We’re excited to add his expertise to our team.”

Gilbert will use a unique tool at MCI called the CyberKnife,which is a robotic system that delivers precise doses of radiation to a tumor. Gilbert describes the CyberKnife as less invasive and especially effective at treating small cancers and those located in sensitive areas such as the head, neck, spine, pancreas and lung. USA Health’s CyberKnife is the only one in the Mobile area and one of two in the state.

“The advantage that CyberKnife provides is its nearly constant image guidance,” said Gilbert. “It is accurate to within a fraction of a millimeter and maintains that accuracy throughout the course of treatment.”

For patients, such accuracy can prevent unwanted radiation damage to the surrounding tissue and can result in a quicker recovery, he said.

At USA Health, Gilbert also looks forward to pursuing academic and clinical research, especially at a time when cancer treatment is advancing rapidly. “When I entered oncology, we had a limited range of what we could do. Immunotherapy and gene therapy were just pipe dreams,” he said. “The fields have just exploded, and that came about because of a better understanding of the biology of cancer.”

For instance, treatments for testicular, gastric and ovarian cancers are relying more heavily on surgery and chemotherapy, and less on radiation, he said. Meanwhile, radiation oncology could expand in new ways, such as in immunotherapy. “There is a thought that one to four high doses of radiation daily could enhance the immune response,” he said. “That is the direction we’re moving.”

To request an appointment or refer a patient to Dr. Gilbert, call (251) 665-8000.

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