Merylee E. Werthan Jost, 88, of Ambler, a pioneering physician who entered the male-dominated field of neurosurgery in the 1960s, died Wednesday, Nov. 13, of pancreatic cancer at Philadelphia Protestant Home.
She was the first female chief resident in neurosurgery at Temple University, according to Victoria Sanchez, a Temple neurology and neurosurgery program administrator.
In 1968, Dr. Jost opened a private practice in Northeast Philadelphia with two other female neurosurgeons. In its early days, the practice was “probably the only such group in the country,” said Women in Neurosurgery, a subdivision of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Dr. Jost was chief of neurotrauma at Frankford Hospital, which changed its name to Aria Torresdale Hospital and then to Aria-Jefferson Health in 2009. It is a Level II trauma center serving Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County.
Dr. Jost worked there from 1968 until late 2007, when she retired. As chief of neurotrauma, she was responsible for all trauma patients admitted overnight.
At her retirement in 2007, she was given a plaque and recognized for her pioneering role in the field of neurosurgery and the leadership she provided the surgical department for 40 years.
“Her commitment to Frankford Hospital along with her dedication to patient care left an indelible mark on the hospital,” the Frankford Impulse, a bulletin, said in its Winter 2007 issue.
Dr. Jost was board certified in 1972 and was the second woman diplomate of the American Board of Neurological Surgeons, according to her biography on the Women in Neurosurgery website. She became a fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1975.
Born in Palmerton, Carbon County, Pa., to Emilie E. Benson and Sidney Werthan, a zinc paint researcher, she graduated as class valedictorian of Stephen S. Palmer High School in Palmerton. While there, she was a flag twirler and first violinist in the student orchestra. She sang in the choir at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Palmerton, and was a Girl Scout and a sailing instructor on Lake Champlain in Vermont.
Dr. Jost graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College in 1953 and studied at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, for two years by means of a Fulbright scholarship. She earned a master’s degree in economics.
She considered entering the foreign service but was drawn to the field of medicine. She studied science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore before earning a medical degree at Temple University Medical School, now the Katz School of Medicine.
“As a freshman, she was fascinated by neuroanatomy and envisioned neurosurgery as an endeavor in which one could work with one’s head, heart, and hands,” Women in Neurosurgery recalled in her biography.
She served a general surgical residency at Temple and a yearlong neurology residency at Philadelphia General Hospital before returning to Temple to complete advanced training.
She was published in the medical literature on Parkinson’s disease patients in 1965 and on stroke patients with high blood pressure in 1970.
Dr. Jost was affiliated as a clinician with Jefferson Health, Temple University Hospital, and Einstein Medical Center. She taught at Temple for many years as a clinical professor of neurosurgery.
Dr. Jost married Charles H. Jost, who was supportive of her work. They shared a love of skiing at Killington Mountain in Vermont and of sailing during the summers off the Maine coast. They also loved driving up and down the East Coast in their red 1953 MG sports car. Her husband died in 2012.
She is survived by her brother, George B. Werthan, and a nephew, Sidney B. Werthan.
A viewing will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the Emil J. Ciavarelli Family Funeral Homes & Crematory, 951 E. Butler Pike, Ambler. An 11:30 a.m. graveside service and remembrance will be at Ivy Hill Cemetery.