Bradley at 47. Doctor at 52.
RANDY SUTTER ’03
Limestone High graduate RANDY SUTTER ’03 was a cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs until deciding it wasn’t for him. Now 36 years and a few careers later — not to mention a lot of hard work — he is a resident in pediatrics and internal medicine.
A glance at Randy Sutter’s lifetime resume reveals three major and lengthy career paths: truck driver, photographer, and doctor. Doctor?
At age 54, Sutter is in the second year of a four-year residency in pediatrics and internal medicine at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. Asked if he ever wakes up, surprised to realize he is now a physician, Sutter says with a smile, “I do that everyday.”
The road to donning a doctor’s coat began about 10 years ago when Sutter’s successful photography business took a sudden downturn. His top client moved its publications out of state, and with the magazines went the bread and butter of his business. From serving as a volunteer fireman in Germantown Hills, as well as an EMT in Metamora, Sutter had discovered an interest in medicine. He had just applied to nursing school when a family friend blurted out, “Why would you want to be a nurse when you could be the doctor?”
That casual remark led Sutter to check out degree requirements at Bradley. To his credit, he already had an associate’s degree and a whopping 128 semester hours from Illinois Central College. Over the previous 25 years, he had been taking classes like calculus and data processing.
“It made me mad,” Sutter admits, when a career counselor dismissed his new plan with the words: “You’ll never make it.” His professors at Bradley offered a great deal of encouragement, however, as did Bradley’s financial aid office. Sutter’s two daughters and his wife Ann were also supportive. TAO SUTTER SEARLE ’02, his oldest daughter, was at Bradley at the same time. After two years of nonstop classes, Sutter received his degree in cellular molecular biology in 2003. His minor was philosophy. “I really had great instructors,” says the grandfather of seven. “With Dr. (Erich) Stabenau, you really know your physiology.”
Then it was on to medical school at the University of Illinois. The fact that he was a recent college grad helped Sutter be admitted to the program. His degree was a good indicator that he could handle the rigors ahead. He scored 100 percent on his first genetics exam, thanks to his Bradley course. His first year was spent in Champaign. For the final three years, Sutter was able to live at home. “There is a lot of stress in medical school. Most of the students are used to being the best in their class, so you’re up against that. It was definitely hard, but I had made it this far. I was also amazed I was in medical school.”
Studying seven or eight subjects until 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. taught Sutter how to prioritize. He would stack his textbooks, spend an hour on a subject, close that book, and move on to the next one. Maintaining that pace isn’t something that most 50-year-olds would embrace, but Sutter had built stamina from his previous career. Hundred-hour weeks had not been unusual in his photography business.
According to Sutter, that career had “started by accident.” After taking a couple of photography courses, he was asked to shoot a wedding. Then he did some portraits. By 1988, the business was a full-time family operation. After a difficult Teamster’s strike, Sutter wasn’t sorry to leave his 14-year career as a truck driver. “I think most people change because we’re forced to. You just have to move on,” he says.
For now, a 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift is a short day. He is on call for 30 hours at a stretch. “I’m tired sometimes, but I love my job. I walk in in the morning, and I’m happy to be here. It’s a fantastic learning environment,” says Sutter, who plans to be a hospitalist, a doctor who specializes in taking care of hospitalized patients. He and his fellow U of I School of Medicine residents make the most of their time. At the daily noon conference, for instance, they eat lunch while listening to a speaker.
“Retirement” is not part of Dr. Sutter’s vocabulary. “I come from the old school,” he says. “I’ll work as long as I possibly can.” And then with a boyish grin, he adds, “I’ll have to live long enough to pay off my student loans.”