May 19, 2017

Nature Boy – Blue Ridge Regional Hospital’s Dr. Cade Discusses His Time on “Survivor”

By Robert A. Poarch

In 2002, 21-year-old Gabriel Cade, MD, tested his lifelong love of adventure on the TV reality show “Survivor: Marquesas.” Fifteen years later, his journey brought him back home to pursue his passion for medicine.

What motivated you to pursue medicine? I was raised near Celo, a small Quaker community in Yancey County. My dad was one of the first primary care doctors in the area, and one of the first to work in the ED in Spruce Pine. I had a lot of family in medicine, so I decided early on that I wasn’t going to be a doctor. I dropped out of college, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trial for four months to explore silence and serenity, and then moved to LA to experience the opposite. I ended up on Survivor: Marquesas, and suddenly had a little extra spending money for the first time. As a firm believer in experiential learning, I worked in an AIDS hospice in Sub-Saharan Africa. It quickly became very clear that there was no better job for me than medicine. Also, my amazing wife had concerns about marrying a college dropout who lived in his car.

What drew you to Survivor? I grew up outdoors. No internet, no television, occasionally no electricity. We had books and woods. As I got older, I got into the survivalist stuff. I’ve also always liked interesting social situations and complex human interactions. Ultimately, I just believed that my skill set was perfect for Survivor, and I applied.

What was the biggest surprise about the show? The isolation. I was surprised at how hard it was, how uncomfortable it felt, to be so completely cut off from my world, and my friends and family. To go through that intense situation without that support structure that’s always there. The total aloneness was a unique experience.

Has Survivor influenced you as a doctor? Totally. In the ED we see a lot of people, and their suffering runs the gambit of psychosocial and serious trauma. Everyone who has come to the ED is also suffering with the isolation of their experience. It’s easy to overlook this aspect of their condition, of their care, but it is vital to treating the complete human condition. Sometimes addressing that feeling of isolation and fear is the only thing a patient needs. In the Wilderness Medicine course I teach, I talk a lot about the psychology of how survival is sometimes tied to geographic isolation.


Gabriel Cade, MD, is Medical Director of the Blue Ridge Regional Hospital Emergency Department.


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