When the members of Mississippi College's first physician assistant class graduated in December 2013, no one was more excited for the new PAs than Dr. Rod Cutrer ’72.
Dr. Cutrer left his successful, 32-year family medical practice in Hattiesburg to serve as the PA program’s medical director, bringing with him more than three decades of hands-on medical experience, a signature sense of humor, and a unique prescription for healing that he didn’t learn in medical school.
“The best doctors have to keep a sense of humor. There is already enough pain and misery in the medical field. Laughter is the hand of God on the shoulder of a troubled world.” — Dr. Rod Cutrer
By the time he was 14 years old, Rod Cutrer knew he wanted to become a doctor. His decision was driven by two of the parables of Jesus, the story of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the talents.
“The idea of finding someone who was sick or hurting, binding their wounds, and then also caring for them afterward appealed to me,” Dr. Cutrer says. “The Good Samaritan didn’t just tend to his patient’s physical needs, he also cared for his patient’s emotional needs.
“The parable of the talents tells us that if God gives us a talent, we should use it 100 percent. Figuring out what was wrong with a patient and making the right diagnosis was the gift God gave me,” Dr. Cutrer continues, then adds with a smile, “If it had been up to me, I would have become a professional athlete.”
Following his graduation from Mississippi College, Cutrer’s talent led him to the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, and then to practicing family medicine in Petal and in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. As a doctor with the Hattiesburg Clinic, he treated virtually every type of ailment and medical emergency, from serious illnesses to children with bugs stuck in their ears.
Dr. Cutrer modeled his practice after that of the storied “country doctor,” making house calls to deliver medicine, checking on his patients outside of office hours, and forming relationships that went beyond simply treating symptoms. His patients benefitted not only from his medical expertise, but also from his unfailing sense of humor and his genuine concern for physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Dr. Cutrer’s prescriptions – all written on his official prescription pad – often took the form of inspirational Bible verses or recommended activities that would help patients focus on something other than their illnesses. As one often-written prescription read, “Exercise, get outside of yourself, and count your blessings.”
In 2009, Mississippi College invited Dr. Cutrer to teach with the university’s new PA program. Leaving his family practice of 32 years and the city he and his wife, Carroll, loved was a life-changing move, but one that Dr. Cutrer felt he had been called to make.
“Dr. Cutrer has a passion for healing the ‘broken’ whether from a physical, emotional, or spiritual aspect. That’s clear every time he steps into the classroom.
-Luke Brasel ’13
“When you’re called by God to do something, it takes the pressure off,” Dr. Cutrer says. “I know this is what I need to be about now. I have this knowledge and experience, and every heartbeat I have is to impart that knowledge and experience to my students.”
Dr. Cutrer’s biggest concern was taking care of his patients, many of whom had been with him all of their lives. He spent six months winding down his practice and finding the right doctors to care for his patients in Hattiesburg.
“Your patients have been so incredibly lucky,” a former patient wrote to Dr. Cutrer. “But your students will continue that legacy because you are a natural teacher.”
Dr. Cutrer came to MC as an assistant professor, but soon accepted additional responsibilities as the PA program’s medical director. An important part of the program is clinical rotations that find the students working in healthcare settings statewide. As medical director, Dr. Cutrer assists in recruiting the physicians and clinics that participate in the rotations.
While Dr. Cutrer enjoys his role as “a doctor from Mississippi out on the forefront” of promoting the MC program, what he enjoys most is teaching. Dr. Cutrer brought the same deep caring spiced with humor that made him a well-loved physician into the classroom at MC, where his teaching techniques include counseling students on their lives outside of school and dancing for the class to the Bee Gees hit, “Stayin’ Alive.” It’s little wonder Dr. Cutrer’s PA students describe him as anything but textbook.
“I want to be the kind of provider Dr. Cutrer was. He doesn’t approach medicine like many doctors do. Instead, he taught us that medicine is a mix of medical knowledge and truly caring for your patients,” says Stephen English ’13. “Dr. Cutrer exudes the kind of love and compassion that comes from Jesus Christ and directs it toward his patients, his students, his family, and his friends. Dr. Cutrer is an honest, enthusiastic, energetic, funny, wise teacher and doctor, and he’s full of love.”
“Dr. Cutrer has a passion for healing the ‘broken’ whether from a physical, emotional, or spiritual aspect. That’s clear every time he steps into the classroom,” says Luke Brasel ’13. “I was one of the older students in the class and married with children, which made it a lot to manage sometimes. Dr. Cutrer was always there to keep me putting one foot in front of the other.”
"The most miserable people are those who don’t have something bigger to focus on than themselves."
-Dr. Rod Cutrer
“While I was away on clinical rotations, it was not uncommon to receive an email or phone call from Dr. Cutrer asking about what I was learning and offering words of encouragement,” says Hannah Clark ’13. “That support meant so much to me. The title of medical director,’ can sound intimidating, but Dr. Cutrer is a mentor and a friend to every student in the program.”
His PA students honored Dr. Cutrer with the program’s 2013 Didactic Faculty Member of the Year Award, presented to the faculty member who helps the most in student learning, as well as the Spirit of MCPA Faculty Award, presented to the faculty member who most exemplifies the ideals of the physician assistant profession through service and leadership.
“Dr. Cutrer is passionate about medicine, serving others, and helping students succeed,” says Courtney Wright ’13. “He leads his life with a servant’s attitude while continuously striving to be the best husband, father, grandfather, instructor, and physician he can be.”
Speaking to the first class of PA program graduates, Dr. Cutrer offered words of wisdom on building a successful career. “Medicine is not just about curing strep throat. It’s about caring. Be there for the least of these. Compassion will drive you to learn and to excel. I realize you need to have a job and an income, but true happiness and joy will come when you realize your life was meant to be given away.”
For as much as he has given his life to his patients and his students, Dr. Cutrer has received much in return. Shortly after he came to MC, Dr. Cutrer suffered a detached retina and lost the sight in his right eye. His efforts to learn the new skills his position required were hampered by his limited vision, and with his 61st birthday approaching, he wondered if it was time to begin slowing down.
“Then I walked into class, and the students surprised me with a birthday card and their rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You,’” Dr. Cutrer says. “That reminded me that it was never about me. It was always about them, my students. This is where I need to be. Even if my vision leaves completely, I can still teach from my heart and brain. I’ll just ask someone to lead me around.”
Over the years, Dr. Cutrer has received hundreds of cards and letters from grateful patients, and is now adding notes from grateful students to his collection.
“When I get down or I’m searching or a little depressed, I get those cards and letters out and read them. Those notes remind me why I was put on this earth. The most miserable people are those who don’t have something bigger to focus on than themselves.”
A letter from one of Dr. Cutrer’s former patients summarizes his past built on caring for his patients, and looks to the future of the MC PA program under his guidance.
“Thank you for taking care of all aspects of our health. Not only are you such a gifted physician, you possess that priceless spirit – Holy Spirit – that permeates everything you do...As much as I will miss having you as our family doctor, I thank our Heavenly Father that you were obedient to His call to teach and train future [physician assistants]. I am certain that countless lives will be changed.”
“It has never been about money or prestige or being a doctor,” Dr. Rod Cutrer says. “It has always been about giving something back, knowing that God asked me to do something on earth, and fulfilling it.”