Tom Gutowski cannot remember what first sparked his interest in medicine, but he can recall the summer job during college when his desire to be a surgeon was cemented: He was serving as an orderly at a small, 50-bed community hospital in Manahawkin, where he befriended the nurses. They let him serve as a scrub nurse in the operating room — the person who handed the instruments to the surgeon.
“You couldn’t do that nowadays,” he says. “You’d have to train for a year or more to be qualified.”
Gutowski’s grandfather was a physician, but his father was in the insurance business and his mother a homemaker. By the time he was in high school at Seton Hall Prep he knew he wanted to be a doctor and by his freshman year at Columbia (Class of 1976, a biology major) he knew he wanted to be a surgeon. He suspects he gravitated toward orthopedics because of his own interest in sports — he played lightweight football at Columbia.
“Orthopedic surgeons tend to be outcome driven,” he says. “You see a problem, set a path, and then the results are demonstrated. The patient is dramatically different at the end.”
Gutowski earned his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College in New York and then did surgical and orthopedic residencies at Yale. He met wife, Janice, at Cornell in New York, where she was studying for a Ph.D. in immunology.
The Gutowskis came to Princeton in 1985, in part because they felt it would be a good place to raise their kids (their oldest daughter is training as an orthopedic surgeon at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, another daughter is teaching kindergarten in North Brunswick, and their son, a graduate of the Hun School and University of Colorado, was recently commissioned as an fighter pilot in the Air Force).
Gutowski continues to stay in shape, and in March completed an ironman half triathlon — including a 13.1-mile run — in Puerto Rico. “The other day I was on my feet in the OR for 12 hours, 7 to 7,” he says. “You have to be in good physical condition.” (He adds, however, that even his knees are subject to wear and tear. He trains three days a week and gives his body a chance to rest in between. At age 60 he foresees a day when he might spend more time swimming and bike riding.)
“I’ve always felt lucky to be in the places I have ended up,” says Gutowski, whose luck in Princeton included replacing both hips of Church & Dwight CEO Jim Craigie, the man who later underwrote the creation of the joint replacement center at a time when the hospital’s own budget was stretched to the limit with construction costs.
Gutowski says that, despite the challenges medicine faces in terms of issues such as regulations and medical malpractice, it is “still gratifying. I am a lucky person to do what I do.”