Never too late to learn for Dover doctor

DOVER –– Robert Gorkin just passed a major milestone, earning a law degree from Widener University in Wilmington on May 16 — only a few weeks before his 71st birthday.

While it might seem unusual for someone of his age to be obtaining a post-graduate degree, it is hardly surprising in Dr. Gorkin’s case. He has benefited from a lifelong addiction to learning, already possessing a long string of degrees.

“I had summer jobs in high school and I knew going straight to work wasn’t for me,” he said. “I loved all my classes in school and knew I had to go to college and keep learning.”

After establishing a need for higher education, Dr. Gorkin, of Dover, has degrees including a Ph.D. in biology from the University of California, Irvine; an M.D. from the University of Minnesota Medical School and an M.S. in psychiatry from the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota.

Laying down the law

“It was difficult, and I would say at times, it was excruciating,” Dr. Gorkin said of his law education at Widener University.

Dr. Robert Gorkin, 70, of Dover, graduated with a degree from the Widener University School of Law on May 16. He also holds degrees in medicine and psychiatry as well as being proficient in several languages, holding a pilot’s license and knowing how to play the piano and guitar. (Submitted photo by Widener University)

Dr. Robert Gorkin, 70, of Dover, graduated with a degree from the Widener University School of Law on May 16. He also holds degrees in medicine and psychiatry as well as being proficient in several languages, holding a pilot’s license and knowing how to play the piano and guitar. (Submitted photo by Widener University)

“But it was an excellent, structured environment and all my professors and classmates were great. I was actually really impressed with the other students; how articulate and accepting they were.”

Dr. Gorkin first became interested in law in the 1990s while living in Coatesville, Pennsylvania and was admitted to Temple University but after a few weeks, realized the classes and commute were too much to take on in addition to work, so he passed up the opportunity. But another opportunity to learn law came knocking just a couple years ago and he decided to open the door.

“The academics were difficult, but it’s truly amazing to walk into the library and see the rows and rows of law books,” he said. “You can see that law is really an intellectual practice. There’s just this huge corpus of literature and it’s all fascinating to me.”

Thanks to advances in technology, he said education has changed greatly since his first post-graduate degree studies in the 1970s. But luckily for Dr. Gorkin, through his jobs over the years, he has stayed up to date with progressing technology so the transition wasn’t too difficult.

“It was definitely different and I think it may have taken me a little longer than the other students to do some things online, but I managed just fine,” he said.

His law degree isn’t just going to be a framed piece of paper on his wall, Dr. Gorkin plans on putting his education into practice but has one more obstacle, the Delaware bar exam, which he plans to take in late July.

“Right now I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and seeing what happens,” he said. “But I do have intentions of practicing law once I pass, but I’m interested in many types so I’m not sure exactly what I will go into yet.”

Among some of the top contenders are health care, medical malpractice, government policy or pro bono work to defend those who can’t afford it and whose interests aren’t represented.

Dr. Gorkin currently heads up Sunrise Counseling Services in Dover, a private practice focused on depression, anxiety, grief counseling, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“We are a coordinated care practice so we take an integrated approach and we believe in avoiding medication unless completely necessary and if so, keeping patients on the lowest necessary dose for the shortest duration,” he said.

He has also done psychiatric work at the Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna and he helped the state of Michigan develop its psychiatry program at Ionia Correctional Facility.

Even through his law classes, Dr. Gorkin continued to run the practice, but he did have to cut back on some hours.

Dr. Gorkin is unsure if he plans to make law into a full-time profession and leave the medical field behind because, he’s just taking one day at a time.

Expanding knowledge

Although Dr. Gorkin’s formal learning days may be over, he still enjoys expanding his knowledge on his own time.

“I would say I have an immense interest in almost everything,” he said. “It’s hard to believe, but I actually enjoy reading math and physics textbooks because there’s never an end to it, something that’s both good and disconcerting.”

The only problem Dr. Gorkin faces from his decades-long academic focus, is a difficulty to enjoy the little things he used to.

“I think I’ve developed Darwin’s lament,” he said. “I have a hard time reading fiction and enjoying other things that I don’t gain knowledge from.”

It may seem like Dr. Gorkin is strictly an academic, but he has a wide range of hobbies and other interests. His first recreational interest began in childhood when he held a strong fascination with nature.

He is a member of the Sierra Club, with which he was taken service trips to Alaska, enjoys hiking and kayaking and documents the life cycles of plants and migration of local animals.

“There’s a whole paradise out there and many people don’t even realize it,” he said. “Nature is where we came from.

It’s beautiful but so many people are divorced from its beauty.”

In addition to science, Dr. Gorkin has an appreciation for the arts, specifically language and music.

His interest began in high school with a Russian language course and later he learned Greek well enough to read the New Testament in its original text.

On his own, Dr. Gorkin says he was able to learn Latin, Hebrew and has dabbled into Old English and even Sanskrit.

Although not fluent in French or Spanish, Dr. Gorkin says he browses online newspapers in both and said he is able to understand most of what he reads pretty well.

“I think I’ve been blessed with the ability to retain much of what I learn,” he said. “Of course, I don’t remember everything, but as long as I have such good retention, I plan to use it. I also think a lot of it has to do with keeping your brain active. There’s science that’s shown that keeping your mind active allows your cognitive function to stay elevated.”

Expanding hobbies

Dr. Gorkin says he taught himself piano and is now capable of playing Beethoven and Mozart’s sonatas. His interest was sparked after he learned a co-worker played jazz piano.

“I took probably half a year of lessons as a kid but I became interested in it again as an adult,” he said. “I bought an upright piano and taught myself. After some intense practice, at its height, probably about 10 hours a day, I became quite proficient and can even do some improvisation. I’ve also picked up some guitar along the way.”

Dr. Gorkin also enjoys improving his body in addition to his mind. He was into weightlifting for a time, followed by running (he completed a marathon while living in Hawaii in the 1980s) and now he practices ballroom dancing.

“It’s a great aerobic workout, improves balance and is also a very social activity,” he said.

Dr. Gorkin even took flying lessons and earned a private pilot’s license.

“Flying was very interesting but unfortunately it is dangerous so I don’t do it anymore, just because I’m so far out of practice,” he said.

At a time in his life when most his friends have retired and now live a life of leisure, Dr. Gorkin said that lifestyle just isn’t for him.

“There’s always a new world of learning and skills out there so I don’t see myself ever truly retiring because there’s always something else,” he said.

“As long as I have curiosity and the ability to learn, the road will always be forking toward all different destinations.”

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