It is a small world.
I look back fondly on my time at Pitt, and for the past 30 years since graduating from Pitt’s residency I have continued to believe that the quality of care we delivered to our patients was truly second to none. I’m grateful and proud to have been part of such a wonderful place, during a truly memorable phase of my life. It seems like yesterday. Pitt opened every subsequent door for me. Back when Jules Sumkin was a junior attending, and Mitch Tublin was a resident.
I arrived at Pitt in a circuitous manner. I was a radiology resident at St Francis rotating through Pitt for pediatric radiology, and ended up loving the rotation. I was so demonstrably overjoyed to be part of the rotation, that Bert Girdany as pediatric radiology service chief asked me if I’d be interested in spending my fourth year as a simultaneous Pitt resident and as a pediatric fellow. St Francis most generously allowed the move. In my current role, I must admit, it would demand greater magnanimity than I possess for me to easily release a facile fourth year resident after getting them through the early training years. I owe Dr. Joe Marasco of St Francis an eternal debt of gratitude for his generosity.
While at Pitt I had the chance to meet Chuck Kerber who was a frequent visitor; a creative giant in the field of Interventional Neuroradiology who practiced at UCSD, himself a Pitt graduate and former Pitt radiology faculty member, and one of the three individuals who had synthesized the field of Interventional Neuroradiology.
Following completion of my time at Pitt and residency graduation, I joined Stanford as a Diagnostic and then Interventional Neuroradiology fellow for three additional years of training. At the time it wasn’t clear to me whether I would be interested in private practice or academics. My wife Sepi Gilani matched in Otolaryngology at Stanford as I was completing my fellowship, and Stanford offered me an interventional neuroradiology (INR) faculty position. I thought it would be nice for both of us to work in the same place and that’s how I ended up in academics.
It was an exciting time for INR; when I started my fellowship we did not have detachable aneurysm coils, we used superglue to seal high-flow vascular anomalies, and there were less than 40 full-time INRs practicing in the USA. All the developments you see on the INR front lines have come about in the past thirty years. There were no stents, no onyx, no stentrievers, no 3D angiograms. I had a chance to see it all creatively blossom and enter the field of practice.
Over the course of the next five years we were joined by our new twin sons Noah and Zachary, Sepi completed her residency, and I built up experience doing clinical cases, learning about and generating research, lecturing, and also developing and creating medical products and tools, and we bought our first house.
Once she completed her residency, Sepi and I started looking at a number of offers I had been receiving, and we decided to move to Boston. I thought we would stay in Boston for five years, and then perhaps move back to the West Coast. Five years turned into 17 years, as I moved from the Massachusetts General Hospital to next head up Neuroradiology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and then to serve as the chair of the radiology department at Boston University starting in 2004. Noah and Zac left for the UK after high school and haven’t looked back.
Looking at the empty nest, I hungered for a new challenge, and thought it might be time to move back to the West Coast. My friend Bill Bradley was chair at UCSD, I respected and admired the powerful department he had built along with his predecessors.
Interestingly, the UCSD radiology department was founded in 1970 by Elliot Lasser, who prior to taking the UCSD founding chair position was the chair of Radiology at Pitt. Dr. Lasser recruited a few additional brilliant Pitt radiology faculty to join him in San Diego including Bob Berk and George Leopold. Dr. Berk was UCSD’s second radiology chair, and Dr. Leopold was UCSD’s third radiology chair. So, with my selection as chair of radiology at UCSD, four out of the five chairs heading up the department to date have come from Pitt radiology! They were needless to say thrilled to have another Pitt sibling in the department. We did much reminiscing together. It was also a treasured privilege to work under the same roof as Chuck Kerber, who had so heavily influenced me at Pitt so many years ago.
I love what I do. I spent three years as whole-campus Associate Vice-Chancellor for Diversity. I’m the faculty sponsor for our biodesign initiative Blue LINC (for Learn, Innovate, Network, Collaborate), and I have the opportunity to steer and inspire a world-class department. I must admit, the most rewarding part of my job is helping forge new careers for the nearly 600 stellar members of my department ranging from physicians to technologists to administrative and scheduling staff to nurses.
Pitt radiology taught me the vision of excellence, the drive to serve patients and communities, the desire to be fully present and contribute every single day, and the appreciation for working shoulder to shoulder with a cohort of perfectionists. I am truly, deeply, and fully appreciative. Thank you, Pitt.
Alexander Norbash MD, MS
Professor and Chair of Radiology
UCSD School of Medicine
UC San Diego Health