Dayna Early, MD is a gastroenterologist who specializes in interventional endoscopcy, endoscopic ultrasound, gastrointestinal oncology and weight management.
Please call 314-747-2066 for an appointment.
What happened in the course of schooling to influence you to choose your specialty?
When I was in high school and also during my undergraduate years in college, I was influenced by one of our family friends. He was a gastroenterologist — he mentored me, took me to the hospital and let me watch procedures. That is what sparked my interest in gastroenterology.
As I went through my training, I became attracted to the procedural aspect of the specialty.
Did you always know you wanted to be a doctor?
I knew from the time I was a junior in high school that I wanted to be a doctor. I was very interested in anatomy and physiology — the natural extension of that was to become a physician.
What brought you to Washington University?
After my training, I moved to the University of Missouri. I began looking for a position at a highly regarded academic center and Washington University seemed like a good fit for me. I felt like there was a lot of team work, collegiality and opportunities to collaborate with very talented people in the field. That is what drew me to Washington University.
Did you have a mentor?
One of my mentors was my division director when I was a fellow at Vanderbilt — I did my first clinical research project with him.
Another important mentor was at the University of Michigan. She helped me become involved in national organizations and spurred my interest in areas outside the clinical care field of gastroenterology.
Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?
There are several aspects of my practice that are really interesting. I enjoy colorectal cancer screening. It is very rewarding to find and remove a polyp, which is precancerous lesion, and know that because it was removed, the patient won’t get colon cancer.
I also treat patients in early stages of esophageal cancer. By performing the procedure endoscopically, we are able to remove the patient’s cancer while avoiding a major operation – because many of our patients are high risk for surgery.
What new developments in your field are you most excited about?
I’ve recently joined a group of Washington University physicians who are using new endoscopic balloon therapies to treat obesity – approved by the FDA in the last few years.
There is a patient population who wants to lose weight, but have been unsuccessful and need help. The intragastric balloon therapy is meant to jump start a patient’s participation in lifestyle changes. The balloon helps the patient feel fuller faster – so he or she eats less and loses weight.
It is a 12 month lifestyle education program. The balloon is inserted for the first six months – during this time the patient has frequent contact with a health behavior coach, dietician and nurse practitioner. After six months, the balloon is removed and the patient continues the meetings to maintain weight loss and continue his or her new healthy lifestyle habits. The average weight loss is about 10% of the patient’s total body weight.
I enjoy getting to know these patients, talking to them about their goals, and helping them achieve their goals.
Is there any research you are involved in?
We are currently looking at ways to improve the colonoscopy procedure and have just finished a trial for women with risk factors for difficult colonoscopies. The study examined different positions for the women during the colonoscopy to determine if one position made the procedure easier for them than another.
Is there a test that can take the place of the colonoscopy?
There are FDA-approved DNA stool tests. The concept is that the colon, including colon cancers, will shed cells in the stool. The stool is collected, the cells extracted and tested for DNA mutations. If mutations are found that suggest the patient might have colon cancer, the next step would be a colonoscopy to confirm or rule out colon cancer.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Kansas City. I went to medical school at the University of Missouri and did all my post-graduate training at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.
Is there a particular award or achievement that is most gratifying?
I was recently elected Missouri Governor for the American College of Gastroenterology. This was through a ballot distributed to my peers. I’m very humbled and proud to serve in this position to represent all the gastroenterologists in Missouri who are members of the College.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
Stay in the moment. Live your life rather than merely coping with it. Every day is a new day.
If you weren’t a doctor, what would you like to be doing?
If you had asked me this question before I started my journey into medical school, I would have said a veterinarian. But my answer now is I would want to have a job working outside – maybe as a landscaper or something in conservation.