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Vital Signs

Two former DHMC section chiefs attain emeritus status

Two longtime members of the Dartmouth Medical School faculty were named to emeritus status during the past year. And although life has thrown them each a curve ball, they're still in the game and swinging away.

Dr. Barry Smith, who was the head of obstetrics and gynecology for nearly 30 years—from 1976 to 2004—had anticipated spending time in retirement traveling with his wife, MaryAnn, a retired nurse practitioner. But when she died this past February from a worsening heart condition, he decided it would be best if he returned to work and kept his mind busy despite his new emeritus status.

An alumnus of both Dartmouth College (Class of '59) and Dartmouth Medical School (Class of '60), Smith completed his M.D. and residency training at Cornell Medical College. In 1970, he returned to DMS and Mary Hitchcock and joined what was then the Section of Obstetrics and Gynecology, within the Department of Maternal and Child Health.

Six years later, he was named chief of the section and became a driving force behind its growth and eventual establishment as a department, with a residency program. In addition, Smith is credited with introducing gynecologic laparoscopic surgery to New Hampshire.

And now, even in the twilight of his career, Smith continues to contribute to his field. During the summer of 2005, for example, he was involved with five different Dartmouth-Hitchcock projects—including an obstetrics quality improvement program—and he was also running for a national position with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Whether he gets elected or not, "either way I'll have plenty to do," he says.

But his plans aren't all work and no play. "I hope to return to skiing, traveling, and perhaps to develop some [more] real hobbies," he says—outside of medicine, that is.

Dr. Nathan Geurkink, who served as chief of the Section of Otolaryngology and Audiology for 15 years—from 1980 to 1995—had planned to retire at age 70 or 71. But in 2003, about a week before his 70th birthday, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. So in December 2003, Geurkink took a leave of absence, and he officially retired this past May.

He still has cancer but remains in good health. "The problem is I don't feel bad at all," he says. Well, that's not really a problem. In fact, since retiring, he's taken up woodworking.

As an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon, specializing in head and neck

cancers, he stayed away from power tools for most of his life. "I didn't want to cut a finger off," he says. Now, however, he has a full-fledged workshop—power tools and all. Above the shop is a writing studio for his wife, Kathleen, a retired nurse practitioner.

Raised on a dairy farm in Oklahoma, Geurkink jokes that one of the accomplishments of his career was that he didn't become a dairy farmer. But the Sooner State put a stamp on his medical career, since he earned his M.D. at the University of Oklahoma.

He arrived at Dartmouth in 1970 after four years at the Cleveland Clinic, two years in the U.S. Public Health Service, and his otolaryngology residency at the Mayo Clinic.

Although Geurkink is enjoying retirement—taking time to smell the acre and a half of wildflowers he planted near his house—he looks back on his career at DHMC fondly. "I really like the collegiality of this place," he says. Geurkink was especially close to Dr. Samuel Doyle, who preceded him as section chief, and to Dr. Dudley Weider, a fellow ENT surgeon who died unexpectedly this past February (see the Spring 2005 issue of Dartmouth Medicine for more on Weider).

But most of all, Geurkink enjoyed his patients. "The people in the area, the patients, have been excellent," he says, adding that head-and-neck cancer surgeons often form close relationships with their patients. "You get as fond of them as a close relative," he says.

Jennifer Durgin

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