The wall in Dr. Suzanne Blaylock's office is covered with framed reminders of why she choose anesthesiology - awards recognizing her from the Peer Reviewed Professionals; the Consumers' Research Council of America as one of America's Top Anesthesiologists; and the Consumers' Research Council of America's Top Physicians. Blaylock always knew she'd have a career in medicine, but what she got was much more.
"I started out as a nurse," Blaylock said. "My father had taken nursing courses back in his day, but it wasn't for him. He suggested I take the courses and he'd pay for them. I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences because I've always felt I had that mindset for it."
After getting her Associate's degree in Chattanooga, she moved to Birmingham and worked at Carraway Hospital. She started working toward her Bachelor's degree when someone suggested the idea of a career in anesthesia. It wasn't long before she realized that maybe medical school would be a better choice.
"I loved working in anesthesia. That was the specialty I wanted to work in. But back then, as an anesthesia nurse there was no real way to move up other than to become a doctor. So I went back to UAB and started taking night classes," Blaylock said.
Her experience as a nurse was valuable, especially in the hospital setting as a medical student. Procedures, terminology and the daily operations of a hospital were easier for her with her background and helped provide a better direction through medical school. And she continues to draw on those experiences now when medical school students come to work with her and her colleagues.
"Students from ACOM come and work with us which is a good experience for us as well as them," Blaylock said. "We enjoy working with our students because it gives us a chance to express ourselves in what we do every day, plus everyone gets a learning opportunity. Not only do these students learn from us, but there are some things we can learn from them. And I think the students get great perspective when they visit rural areas like Tuscumbia."
As settled in as she is into the Tuscumbia area, one might take Blaylock for a small town girl. You'd be absolutely correct. Originally from a town just outside of Chattanooga, her small town roots run deep, and so do her stories of home.
"My mother was a baker, and she worked at Little Debbie in Chattanooga. In fact, I went to school with Little Debbie, and I worked there, too," she said. "Mom used to hand roll those cakes in the bakery. I worked in the micro lab. The first course I took right out of high school was microbiology, and there was a microbiology lab in the bakery. Little Debbie was very innovative for its time. All the ingredients were tested for things like salmonella, and then we'd go out and test the finished cookies. I'm sure companies do this now, but back then no one else did."
Blaylock said it was a dream job, but it probably contributed to her weight problem that followed her through her adult years. Like many medical professionals, eating a balanced diet may be with the best of intentions, but it may not always be what happens during the day.
"I had gotten out of shape, and struggled with my weight. So a friend asked me to go to Weight Watchers with her. We had a dynamic leader, and my friend and I did it on the buddy system. Then it became more of a habit than a chore," she said. "I ended up losing over a hundred pounds, but I didn't keep it all off because now I have more muscle. I started working out more at the gym. I guess I must be highly suggestible because a friend at the gym suggested I do some triathlons. And then my coach suggested I try body building."
Last year she became the 2016 National Physique Committee Masters Over 60 Figure Champion, and she's competing again to defend her title in Puerto Rico this month.
"If I had started doing body building in my 20s, I might be a coach now with endorsements, but it's not like I'm going to try out for the Olympics," Blaylock said with a laugh. "I'm not going to quit my day job, but it's a lot of fun and I enjoy competing. Everyone should be able to do something for themselves that they enjoy."