“Everyone I bumped into at Rutgers made me do things the right way.” –Dennis Doblar
Dennis Doblar earned degrees in everything from French (BA'72) and electrical engineering (BS'70), to biomedical engineering (MS'73, PhD'78), and medicine (MD'79) at Rutgers. For 20 years, he served as a Professor of Anesthesiology and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama, teaching anesthesia residents and nurse anesthetist students and serving as a thesis advisor for biomedical engineering graduate students. Today, he owns and operates a pain management clinic in Alabama. A frequently funded researcher, speaker, and writer, he is currently a consultant to the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst Program.
Where did you grow up?
Maple Heights, Ohio - near Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Why did you choose Rutgers?
I pretty much chose Rutgers because of word of mouth. I was interested in engineering and was advised to check out Rutgers.
I’m not the only Rutgers grad in the family. My daughter Wendy is a graduate. And I’m not the only engineer in the family. My son Drew, a computer architect who has obtained more than 50 U.S. patents for his employers, graduated from Cornell.
Do you have other children?
My next daughter, Dana, is a probation officer and my other daughter, Lora is an attorney. I have five grandchildren as well.
You also have a BA degree in romance languages. What language was your specialty?
I took French for four years in high school and for four years at Rutgers. My Rutgers French professor moved me into graduate level classes at the start of my second year. The Rutgers faculty really pays attention to their students.
Why was engineering your first interest?
Dr. Richard Plano was my undergraduate physics professor. I did well in his class, he asked me if I could help one of his doctoral students who was working on Dr. Plano’s hydrogen bubble chamber that he developed. We worked from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. -- the only time we could get on the old computers in the physics department back then – which piqued my interest in that area of research. Thanks to his support and encouragement, I was exposed to research that very few undergraduates ever see.
What was the focus of your PhD?
I worked in medical school Dean Norman Edelman’s laboratory while getting my master’s degree and also while pursuing my Ph.D. degree. He and biomedical engineering chair Walter Welkowitz were my Ph.D. thesis advisors. I investigated how carbon monoxide inhalation affected blood flow to the brains of goats and developed a mathematical transfer function, or equation, for predicting the brain blood flow response to any changes in oxygen inhaled.
While working on my Ph.D., I was a U.S. Army Reservist, having previously been in ROTC. The U.S. Army contacted me at Rutgers and I made a nine-year commitment to the Army, which paid for medical school at Rutgers.
Why did you choose anesthesiology as your medical specialty?
My interest in anesthesiology began with my brain blood flow studies in goats. Under Dr. Edelman’s direction, I was taught how to anesthetize the goats, place breathing tubes in the goats, breathe for them with a machine, surgically implant the brain blood flow devices, conduct the testing, and wake the goats up for recovery by the veterinarians in the basement research area at Rutgers.
After medical school, I trained in anesthesiology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and satisfied my commitment to the U.S. Army at Dwight David Eisenhower Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. I practiced anesthesiology in two hospitals in Augusta for eight years before joining the University of Alabama faculty.
What are some of your recent professional accomplishments?
I own my own pain center in Centre, Alabama. My five employees and I serve more than 800 patients a year since we opened less than a year ago. We are still growing.
Just last year I was named a consultant to the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst Program. I’ve also inspected hospitals for compliance violations as a credentialed surveyor for the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and for the National Committee for Quality Assurance in Washington, D.C.
Do you hold any patents?
Yes. Working with a colleague, I designed a rotary valve for use in invasive medical catheters with other non-medical applications.
I worked with another University of Alabama colleague to develop an anesthesia quality improvement software program that the University marketed across the United States as AneTrakQIä.
Have you mentored younger physicians?
I, along with my University of Alabama colleagues, trained and mentored more than 360 anesthesiology residents over 20 years, as well as hundreds of certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNP) candidates. I learned from my Rutgers professors how to do it right – and do it fairly.
How would you describe your leadership style?
If I discover an issue, I meet with the individuals, question them, and listen to their explanations. If more information is needed, I advise and encourage them to do research and find answers and then report back to me with reasonable solutions. I give my employees respect and encouragement – the importance of both I learned at Rutgers from my amazing professors.
What other lasting lessons did you learn at Rutgers?
I learned how to educate students. I learned how to research changes in the law and to be pro-active in making changes in my current medical practice to maintain compliance with the DEA and the State Board of Medical Examiners. Every professor I had trained me to do things the right way.
Do you have any advice for today’s School of Engineering students?
First, be sure to pick the right area of expertise, whatever is the best fit for you.
In making your choice, think about and predict what you might end up doing when you get a job. You should try to work part-time during the summer in your areas of interest. There are many, many things an engineer can do, so it’s up to you to find out what options are right for you.
What do you do in your free time?
My wife and I have a second home in Amory, Mississippi, where we spend a lot of time outdoors on the weekends. During the week, my wife works as an emergency room and long-term care facilities nurse, while I work at my pain clinic. Mostly, we work in our gardens and enjoy the peacefulness of a country farm. For example, we have a 200-foot by 100-foot fenced in garden that yielded 50 gallons of blueberries last summer.
If you could take a vacation tomorrow, where would you go and why?
My wife and I would stay right here at our homes in Alabama and Mississippi! We love it here.