Craig a1 monday 10-13

Medicine is Dr. Dianna Craig’s third career choice, but her patients are her first priority.

Craig, a breast surgeon with offices at Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber, started out training to be a high school art teacher.

In her native Texas, Craig majored in art and minored in education at the University of Texas.

“I never really taught, but I did some substituting,” Craig said. “I couldn’t find a job teaching in art. They wanted math and science teachers.”

This led Craig to her second career as a draftsman and technical illustrator in the aerospace industry, which lasted about 14 years.

Craig knew that doing something medical was always in the back of her mind.

She was interested in science, particularly biology, and had almost majored in zoology, but she liked art more.

“I thought about changing my major three-fourths of the way through college, but my parents said ‘Do what?’ ” Craig said.

At a crossroad, Craig pondered what to do with her life, what she would do if she could do anything.

The answer was to take pre-med courses while still working at General Dynamics in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and if she did well, she would go on to medical school.

If she didn’t do well, she would at least know she had tried.

After five years of working and taking classes, Craig went to medical school in San Antonio while in her mid-30s.

“I encourage anyone to go back to school,” Craig said. “The time is going to go by anyway, you might as well get where you want to be.”

After graduating in 1990, Craig interviewed for a residency in the Northeast because she had never been outside Texas before.

She served her residency at Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown from 1994 to 1999.

“I love the seasons, and I had never seen them before,” Craig said. “When I came to Johnstown, I knew I couldn’t ask for a prettier place. I don’t think the residents appreciate it. Fall is my favorite time.”

While on rotations, she discovered she liked the hands-on immediacy of surgery.

“When I was in Johnstown, I thought I wanted to do general surgery,” she said, “but there’s so much to do. You don’t have time to specialize. I also did a residency at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a month to six weeks. I wanted to see if I wanted to do it day in and day out.”

Craig discovered she enjoyed surgery and especially surgery on the breast.

She came back to Johnstown and took her general surgical boards, but found there was no breast surgery-specific practice in Johnstown.

“There were other surgeons who did breast surgery and had a practice,” Craig said, “but they didn’t want to do breast surgery full time.”

Craig traveled up the coast to Fort Kent, in what she describes as the “tip-top” of northern Maine, to take a general surgery practice.

“It was like ‘Northern Exposure,’” she said. “I saw moose at the side of the road.”

After doing a whole gamut of surgical procedures in the rural practice, Craig received a call telling her there was an opening in the Johnstown area.

A new breast care center was opening in Windber.

“They called me because they knew this was what I wanted,” Craig said. “When you specialize, you get good at it. I need to grow and learn, and this gives my patients more opportunities.”

Craig, now 55, interviewed for Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center before it opened in 2002 and has been on staff ever since.

“It’s a perfect fit,” Craig said. “The center is an excellent choice, and a good opportunity for me and my patients. Any breast surgeon would jump at the chance to work here. We have MRI, stereotactic core biopsy, ultrasound and digital mammography all in one place.”

Craig also gets patients from State College, Tyrone, Altoona, Huntingdon, Bedford and Somerset.

“We’re pretty convenient to most places,” Craig said. “We save them from going to Pittsburgh.”

A typical day could see Craig in surgery at Windber Medical Center, doing less-invasive biopsies at the breast care center or seeing new or follow-up patients.

“I’m seeing less time in the OR with some of the minimally invasive procedures, but certain situations still call for the old-fashioned way,” Craig said.

Craig likes the idea of the breast care center being patient friendly.

“They get nervous, and we make them relaxed,” she said of her patients. “They see a friendly face, and we know them by name. It lowers their anxiety level. Most leave more relaxed than when they came.”

Craig also likes the one-stop convenience that shortens the wait between mammogram and biopsy.

“That dead time is so hard,” Craig said. “If I had something wrong, I would come here. The staff is excellent. It’s comparable to any place. I’ve been told Pittsburgh isn’t offering any more.”

‘Heart of the hospital’

Craig said it is in her nature to want to be good at what she does, and she believes being a woman helps her make other women feel confident.

“I enjoy surgery because I can give direct help,” Craig said. “If you have something wrong, I can cut it out.”

Craig also is medical staff president for Windber Medical Center, in charge of the entire staff and on the board of directors.

“I’m involved behind the scenes with planning and financial things,” Craig said. “I’m in tune with the heart of the hospital. It’s a learning experience for me.”

In her office at the breast care center, Craig has photographs of Maine scenes on the wall and a towering banana tree in the corner, which gives off baby plants she calls “pups.”

Her bookshelves include the latest in breast surgery technology as well as a 1908 copy of “Diseases of the Breast.”

“I like to see the changes,” Craig said. “In the 1980s, they were still doing radical mastectomies.”

Craig works on the fundraising committee for Women’s Help Center and is on the board of directors for Cambria County Medical Society.

She supports the Pink Ribbon Ball every year by purchasing a table for her patients and their spouses.

“This is something they might not get the opportunity to do,” Craig said.

Craig has a Monday through Friday job, with no golf day because she doesn’t golf.

Her interests include getting out and driving around the area, taking back roads that even longtime residents don’t know exist.

“I like to roam around,” Craig said. “I go to flea markets and antiquing. I go biking on the Ghost Town Trail.”

When at home in Southmont, Craig keeps company with her two cats, Toby and KC.

“I started out with one, and he wanted to play with me, so I got a partner for him,” Craig said.

“They wrestle with each other.”

Craig always loved her art, but pushed it aside for her other pursuits.

“I like drawing more,” she said. “I don’t do my art stuff, but I should pick it up.”

Craig still appreciates good art and enjoys going to local art galleries. She often purchases a medium she doesn’t work in, such as pastels.

Craig finds it relaxing to mow the lawn at her 1921 era house, which she calls a work in progress.

“I’m having the work done,” she said. “I love old houses. They have character.”

Craig wishes she could do all the work herself, but she did remove pink carpeting to reveal the house’s original oak floors.

Craig’s mother died five years ago, but she still visits her father, who is 86 and enjoys pursuing genealogy on the computer, and some cousins in Texas a couple times a year.

Craig does not regret changing careers, believing being in her third career gives her a more rounded take on life.

“Medicine is not boring,” she said. “There’s always something new to learn. I can barely keep up with the reading, and that’s just on breast cancer.”

Craig even gets a chance to use her art expertise in the 3-D imagery of surgery and has no plans for career number four.

“I don’t think of going anywhere else,” she said of the breast care center.

“My purpose is to make it the best I can make it.”

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