Featured Physician: Sybil Cineas, MD
Dr. Cineas is an Associate Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Medical Science at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the Associate Program Director for the Brown Internal Medicine-Pediatrics Residency Program.
Award: RIMS “Halifax” Award
This honor is awarded to a Rhode Island physician who has gone above and beyond in serving the community through medical volunteerism. The Halifax award is named in commemoration of the Rhode Island Medical and nursing communities’ swift and generous response to the catastrophic explosion that devastated the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the morning of December 6, 1917.
Dr. Cineas has been honored with the “Halifax” award for her tenure as the longest serving volunteer at the Rhode Island Free Clinic in Providence, and for the expertise and compassion she brings to this role. Since 1999, she has shared her skills as a primary care provider with the Clinic whose mission is to provide free, comprehensive medical care and preventive health services to adults who have no health insurance and cannot afford those services; and to serve as an educational training site for aspiring health care professionals. Despite having a highly-demanding “day job”, Dr. Cineas finds deep fulfillment in her volunteer work as a physician and teacher at the Clinic. When she is not volunteering, Dr. Cineas serves as Associate Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Medical Science at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and as Associate Program Director for the Brown Internal Medicine-Pediatrics Residency Program. She is also a Co-Director for the Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship as part of the medical school’s Primary Care-Population Medicine track. Dr. Cineas’ longtime work bringing important medical care to the under-insured of Rhode Island at the Rhode Island Free Clinic makes her a deserving recipient of this award.
Q&A with Dr. Cineas:
You were nominated for the “Halifax” award for your work with the Rhode Island Free Clinic and earning the title as the longest-serving volunteer there. What initially prompted you to volunteer at the Free Clinic and why is this work so important to you?
It was a combination of wanting to build relationships with my peers and to do some meaningful work in the community. I moved to Rhode Island in 1999 and didn’t really know many people at Brown or in Providence. In that first year, I worked only part time at Brown – becoming full time my second year – so I took every opportunity to get involved with activities at the medical school as well as in the community. I had friends at Brown who were volunteering at the Free Clinic at that time, so I started volunteering there along with other physicians and made some additional friends in the process. The RI Free Clinic was literally two rooms in a basement back then. From there, it became a regular thing for years for all of us to volunteer on a particular night each month and to get together socially after our volunteer shifts. So, while I started going with my friends, I wound up staying all this time for the patients. It just became an important commitment, so I built a monthly volunteer shift into my schedule. Then, some of my friends gradually stopped volunteering due to career and other professional commitments. The Free Clinic also underwent many transitions, and in the process lost some volunteers, but I continued to volunteer throughout the transitions, including new leadership. The Free Clinic means a lot to me because of the patients that we see there. They are hardworking, economically disadvantaged people from across the state who do not have anywhere else to go for their care, and they are incredibly grateful for the services we provide. Also, everyone I work with is incredibly kind, welcoming, and likeminded, so it has always been very rewarding professionally to volunteer there.
What is your greatest takeaway from your volunteer work at the clinic?
No matter how tired I am at the end of a long workday, my fatigue dissipates the moment I walk into the Free Clinic to start my volunteer shift. Providing care to the patients truly energizes me. It’s always such a pleasure to be able to be there for them. And I’m so proud of the fact that they receive wraparound care there. They’re able to access primary care, subspecialty care and even dental care. And the staff working at the Free Clinic are all working on the patients’ behalf, and genuinely care about this population of Rhode Islanders.
What work there are you most proud of?
The simplicity of providing such an important service to a population in need and receiving so many thank yous along the way. I see patients for their primary care needs…health maintenance, managing chronic medical conditions…and it’s the gratitude I receive from patients that keeps me going back. I’m also proud to put many of the clinic’s patients at ease by using my Spanish. I speak Spanish fluently and that’s super helpful for this patient population. I often see the look of relief on patients’ faces when they realize they can speak directly to the doctor without an interpreter. And last, I’m really proud of stepping out of my comfort zone and participating in Dancing with the Doctors in 2018 to raise money for the clinic. It meant a lot to me to be able to do that. The benefit encouraged doctors to join and train with professional dancers, and then perform in front of an audience. I’m not a performer and I don’t necessarily like attention, but it was important to me to rise to the occasion to raise money for the clinic.
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a physician?
It was just a culmination of schooling and experience. My parents always encouraged us to pursue whatever we wanted, including a career in medicine, which my father had some experience with. My father went to medical school and although he didn’t practice medicine afterwards, he and my mother felt it was one of many noble professions. I always liked the sciences in school, so I entered college as a biology major at Georgetown University, but I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with that. In my third year I decided to be pre-med or at least complete the requirements for pre-med while pursuing my biology major, and then when I finished, it was sort of like the natural thing to do. You finish college with a biology degree and you apply to medical school! It was just a natural progression.
Tell us about your regular non-volunteer role. What might a week in your life look like?
In my regular job, I am a primary care physician dually board certified in both internal medicine and pediatrics and an associate program director for our residency program – where we train residents to be “med-peds” providers. (Meaning they’re eligible to sit for the boards in internal medicine and in pediatrics when they finish their residency.) I also do some work with medical students at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown. I’m a co-director for the Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (LIC) which is part of the medical school’s Primary Care-Population Medicine program. In a typical week I have about five to six half days where I see patients or supervise residents in clinic. I also have a half day where I work with a LIC student in clinic.
What would you want your legacy as a physician to be?
My hope would be to inspire more residents and medical students to consider primary care as a career. And, while it would be great if we never had the need to have free clinics because everyone had equal access to care, for as long as there is a need I would hope to inspire other people to take a few hours to volunteer at a free clinic or to make some sort of commitment to the community that is beyond their regular work.
Outside of your demanding job, what do you like to do in your spare time?
We’re all very busy but there’s always time to enjoy life outside of work. It’s just what you choose to do with your time. I work out regularly – several days a week with a personal trainer so that keeps me on a schedule and ensures that I go. In the same way that I schedule my volunteer time at the Rhode Island Free Clinic, I also schedule my workout sessions. If it’s scheduled, I’m going to do it! Also, ever since my experience with Dancing with the Doctors, I take dance lessons periodically to keep that going. It’s mostly Latin dancing and it’s a lot of fun. I also love to travel and experience new cultures. I always take an annual vacation with my cousin somewhere and I visit my parents in Maryland about once a month.