He started in the mountains of Colorado, lived in the deserts of the Middle East, moved to the swamps of Florida and soon he'll be in the Rockies of Montana as a member of Clark Fork Valley Hospital.
Dr. Robert E. Blease will be the hospital's first fulltime orthopedic surgeon since the late 1990s and is scheduled to begin work sometime in mid January.
"In looking for a new practice opportunity, I was seeking a smaller facility in the West, were I could provide more personalized care to my patients in an environment that encouraged me to do so," said the 52-year-old Blease.
He has been in the medical field for 18 years, starting with a career in the Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. He didn't set out right away to be a doctor. After enlisting in 1985, he became an electronic warfare specialist as a Czech linguist. Six years later, he became a Special Forces medic. He became an officer in 1997 and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Colorado State University. His Doctorate of Medicine came from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in 2000. He did his Orthopedic Surgical Internship at William Beaumont Amy Medical Center, where he also did his Orthopedic Surgical Residency. In 2007, he obtained his Orthopedic Trauma Fellowship from the University of Tennessee School of Medicine.
During his career in the Army he's had nine different units and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, chalking up nearly two dozen ribbons and medals in his career.
After leaving the military, he took a position as orthopedic trauma surgeon at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Fla., where he averaged about 1,000 cases a year. "I was just too busy to enjoy life and work," said Blease, who received a flyer in the mail about Clark Fork Valley Hospital seeking an orthopedic surgeon. Blease said he looked at about 100 places before narrowing it down to four – two in Colorado, one in New Mexico, and Plains.
"I'm looking forward to being here, getting back to a little easier pace of life and a place where I can do a lot of the leisure time activities I like," he said during a short trip to Plains last week, when visited the hospital to look over his future work places and to meet some of the hospital's key personnel.
He liked the idea of a small hospital run by a physician, which he said is a rarity. He found Plains to be friendly, beautiful and without the over population that has "plagued my home state of Colorado," where his father was a family practice physician.
"Additionally, I am looking forward to working in an environment where the focus is on quality of care and not corporate profit," he said. "The exposure that I received through the Special Forces training, the lives that were improved, and the feelings of satisfaction after making lasting positive impacts in others' lives, all pushed my career in this direction," said Blease, who initially considered being an ER physician, but he said he became "disenfranchised with that very quickly." He also thought about general surgery trauma. "I kind of stumbled into orthopedics and there were people that did surgery, worked hard and seemed happy and had a lot of fun," said Blease. He guessed that he has performed somewhere between 8,000-10,000 surgeries in his career.
Dr. Carl Albertson served as an orthopedic surgeon in Plains from the mid 1970s until 1997, according to Dr. Greg Hanson, CEO of Clark Fork Valley Hospital. Since that time, visiting surgeons and outreach services by various surgeons have helped filled the gaps.
"We have seen it increasingly inconvenient for Sanders County residents to obtain orthopedic services," Dr. Hanson said. He added that Dr. Jeffrey LaPorte of Missoula has served the local community for the last several years, but is limited in commitment time, which Hanson said results in frequent delays in obtaining care.
"We believe that Dr. Blease's full-time presence will dramatically improve availability of high quality orthopedic services," Hanson said.