Dr. John Sutphen loves beauty, detail, shape and composition. It’s why he dabbles in sculpture, pottery, art and books.
At Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, it’s also part of why he specializes in analyzing human anatomical form.
“I love the way shapes and colors come together to give a certain feeling and lift you out of the commonality of life,” he says. “It’s also part of why I love what I do at L+M.”
Dr. Sutphen is one of L+M’s interpretive radiologists and a specialist in the field of ultrasound. Whether it’s the arteries of the heart, the carotid artery that leads to the brain or the emerging details of a new life in a pregnancy ultrasound, he never ceases to study every detail with an enthusiastic and discerning eye.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he says. “It’s always interesting. It’s always fascinating.”
Sutphen is a veteran at L+M, celebrating 40 years on staff this year. But his story begins in the Midwest, where he grew up in the small central-Ohio town of Newark.
He left home to attend college in Chicago at Northwestern University, where he studied engineering physics. One day, however, Dr. Sutphen realized that he wanted something more from his science – something with a deeper sense of personal fulfillment.
“I realized that I wanted something beyond just numbers and equations,” he recalls. “I wanted to do something good for people and something rewarding for myself. I realized I liked to be around people.”
Dr. Sutphen went on to Ohio State Medical School. From there, it was off to Rhode Island Hospital, where he had a rotating internship that involved all disciplines in clinical medicine.
“We learned everything,” he recalls. “We even rode ambulances.”
And then, like so many young doctors of the day, Dr. Sutphen was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.
“I volunteered for submarines,” he says. “For two and a half years I rode patrols on the Abraham Lincoln, a ballistic missile submarine.”
Sutphen was then assigned as Squadron Medical Officer at State Pier in New London. He remembers vividly sailing on a rescue ship, the USS Skylark, as a hurricane tipped his ship on 65-degree angles and green waters crashed over the captain’s bridge 35 feet above the water line.
Dr. Sutphen left the service in January 1968 and joined a general practice in Ohio for a brief time. He headed next to Boston for a residency at Harvard’s main teaching hospital, Mass. General. He spent three years there working in diagnostic radiology, and that’s when he fell in love with the field.
In 1972, when Sutphen came to L+M Hospital, imaging was relatively primitive. Surgeons often operated on patients because “exploratory” surgery was the only way to actually see what was going on inside the body. There was no ultrasound, no CT scans and no MRI. Simplistic X-rays were state-of-the-art at the time.
“We couldn’t see the pancreas,” Dr. Sutphen says. “Today, we can see bones in the ears that are 2 millimeters in diameter. We can scan someone from head to toe in 24 seconds and get resolution down to a tenth of a millimeter. It used to take days to try to do that, and the information we gleaned was not always reliable. We had to make inferences on very indirect observations.”
When ultrasound first came on the scene in the mid-1970s, Dr. Sutphen says there were only three physicians in the state who were using the technology.
“There was a guy at Yale, a guy at St. Raphael’s and me,” he says. “We were alone trying to figure out how to use this technology. We were first to figure out how to find a hernia using ultrasound, and how tell a baby boy from a girl. We published three papers in one year about what we saw –things that were never seen before our new toy.”
Today, Dr. Sutphen can usually be found reading images in L+M’s ultrasound unit, looking at detail almost unimaginable 40 years ago. In some cases, for example, details of an unborn baby are so clear that parents think they can recognize facial features, or they marvel at how much their child acts like his or her father or mother.
“L+M was an amazing place when I got here,” Dr. Sutphen says, “and it’s still a great place. I love this place. I especially love the people. I’m not just talking about my fellow doctors, but the nurses, the technologists, the secretaries, the transportation staff and materials management. And also the people the great people that used to be here.”
“I’ve always liked the feel of the place,” Dr. Sutphen says of L+M. “And I think everyone does a very good job. And my favorite thing to do is to read ultrasound images. The things we can diagnose and explain to people are amazing. I’ve been doing it for so long, but I love it. It’s my passion. It’s my baby.”
To learn more about Dr. Sutphen, click here.