Lots of medical students come from medical families. But few can match Geoff Rutledge’s family legacy.
When Rutledge graduates from the University of Minnesota Medical School in May, he will be the fourth generation Rutledge to do so and the fifth-generation physician in his family.
“I think it’s really unusual that there were four of us at the same school,” says Geoff’s father, Robb Rutledge, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon in Red Wing, Minnesota. “There has always been a Dr. Rutledge in the state since 1920.”
Geoff, who is specializing in general surgery and matched for his residency at Mount Sinai hospital in New York, says that his family’s history had an impact on him while he studied at the University. He recalls experiencing a sense of connection in Jackson Hall, where his father and grandfather had sat for anatomy class.
“Three generations in a row, we were all on campus in the same building learning anatomy,” says Geoff.
The legacy began in the early 1900s with Lloyd Howard Rutledge, whose father was a doctor (although not a University of Minnesota graduate). After a brief stint working for a glass company in Kansas City, Missouri, Lloyd followed mentor Clarence M. Jackson to the University of Minnesota, where he received an M.A. in anatomy and his medical degree in 1919. (Jackson was an anatomy professor and director of the anatomy department at the University, and in 1954, Jackson Hall was named in his honor.)
Shortly after graduating, Lloyd took a job in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where he practiced from 1920 to 1970. “Nobody does that anymore,” says Robb. “He knew that county backwards and forwards.”
Lloyd’s son, John Rutledge—Robb’s father—was next in line to attend the Medical School. After graduating in 1950, he went on to specialize in general practice and completed additional training in surgery. He worked in Minnesota’s Becker County. “Dad practiced till the day he died in 1983,” says Robb with pride.
Although he never felt pressured to go into medicine, Robb says that curiosity lured him in. “The first time I scrubbed in was with my father. I somehow didn’t get sick. In fact, it was interesting.”
While his attraction to medicine was developing, so was his love for the University.
“I went to a Gopher [football] game when I was 9. We watched Bobby Bell and Carl Eller play,” Robb recalls. “Every time I step on campus, it feels like home. Gopher sports has been a constant in my life.”
Just over a decade later, Robb followed in his father’s—and grandfather’s—footsteps, enrolling at the University in 1970. As an undergrad, he lived in the Frontier Hall dorm on campus and says that Gopher sports played a major role in his life.
“Gopher basketball probably saved me,” says Robb. “It gave me something to cling to while I was trying to get my bearings as a freshman.”
He also joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity, forging friendships that continue today.
Robb, who initially considered becoming a lawyer, says he’s grateful for the Medical School faculty members who helped him find his niche. “I was a third-year student, and I knew I wanted to do surgery, so I asked Dr. [James] House if I could scrub in on a case,” he says. “I saw them dislocate a hip [as part of a hip replacement], and I thought, ‘Wow! I want to do that.’”
His career path was set.
After graduating from the Medical School in 1979, Robb began a surgical internship at Hennepin County Medical Center, where he met his future wife, Jane. “A peds patient with a broken ankle played matchmaker,” he says.
In 1984, Robb started an orthopaedic practice in Red Wing, where he and Jane raised two sons and a daughter. Today, Geoff, their older son, is taking after his father in more ways than one.
Like his father and grandfather, Geoff had an early curiosity about medicine. When he was a sophomore in college, he asked Robb if he could observe an operation. “I never felt woozy. It really excited me,” Geoff says.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of St. Thomas, Geoff spent two years in North Carolina working for Teach For America, unsure whether medicine was right for him. After concluding that it was, he started medical school at the University in 2006.
Observing his father’s career inspired his decision. “My dad had a huge influence on me. He loves his job. He’s a real role model,” says Geoff, who, like his dad, has developed strong ties to the University. “It’s a great school—a topnotch medical university.”
Also like his father, Geoff is spending a lot of time at Hennepin County Medical Center. Perhaps he’ll meet a pediatric nurse, his dad teases, and continue the Rutledge family legacy.
By Robyn White