A newsmaker you should know: Surfer-turned-doctor will lead West Penn Hospital surgery division

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Blair Anderson Jobe has the soul of a surfer and the heart of a healer.

"I grew up surfing in Southern California for the first part of my life," said the Los Angeles, Calif. native, who was recently named chief of surgery at West Penn Hospital and director of the Institute for the Treatment of Esophageal and Thoracic Diseases, located at the new West Penn Allegheny Health Systems Outpatient Care Center in Peters.

Now living in Squirrel Hill with his wife, Elizabeth, and four children, Dr. Jobe also was a member of a punk rock band before his experience working as a nursing aide in a California emergency room made him realize life was more than just a day at the beach.

"I was always in search of the perfect wave, but then I realized I had to get a real job," said Dr. Jobe, 47, whose father, Frank W. Jobe, was a well-known orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Los Angeles.

Dr. Jobe enrolled at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1989. He received his medical degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and completed his internship and residency at Oregon Health & Sciences University and a fellowship in minimally invasive esophageal surgery at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, Wash.

A board-certified surgeon, Dr. Jobe received the 2005 Outstanding Researcher of the Year Award by the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons and the 2010 Faculty of the Year award within UPMC's Division of Thoracic and Foregut Surgery.

Though he could have doubtlessly earned more money and prestige by practicing on the West Coast, those weren't motivating factors for Dr. Jobe, who was lured to Pittsburgh five years ago for a job with UPMC.

"For me, that wasn't my driver," he said. "You have to really be passionate about medicine to do it or you won't be happy."

Recently, when the West Penn Allegheny Health System approached Dr. Jobe to lead a branch of local institutes focused on treating esophageal and thoracic diseases as part of its ongoing merger with Highmark Inc., the researcher in him couldn't resist the jump.

"It's really exciting," said Dr. Jobe. "The mission is to take doctors and bring them together for one purpose -- for the patient."

Considered to be one of the nation's preeminent esophageal disease specialists, Dr. Jobe is a pioneer in the field of minimally invasive surgery and endoscopic therapy for the treatment of esophageal cancer, Barrett's esophagus, esophageal mobility disorders and gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD.

"We are delighted to have Dr. Jobe at our beautiful Outpatient Care Center in Peters Township," said Terry Wiltrout, President and CEO of Canonsburg General Hospital. "Dr. Jobe's talent and innovation will greatly enhance the high quality of care available to our community. "

A prolific medical researcher and international lecturer, Dr. Jobe has received millions of dollars in research grants, including two National Institutes of Health grants that focused on improving early detection of esophageal cancer.

That's especially important to him, he said, because the outlook for those diagnosed with esophageal cancer is dismal, with just a 15 percent survival rate for five years.

"There's a lot of work to be done, and the reason is that we diagnose it late," said Dr. Jobe, who said many esophageal cancer patients aren't diagnosed until they begin experiencing end-stage symptoms, such as trouble swallowing.

Cancer patients could have better outcomes if they have treatment options available locally, Dr. Jobe said, and that's his goal.

"We're trying to change, to make things better for the patient," he said. "That's what really interests me -- how do we discover the cancer early."

His institute will use a "patient-centric model that will change the way we treat patients in this country, with multiple disciplines coming together to treat esophogeal disease," Dr. Jobe said.

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Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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