From Adversity to Purpose: The Resilient Journey of Richie Suarez

Richie Suarez presenting to a group of people in a conference room.

A Rowan University biological sciences major finds his purpose and launches a career as a medical doctor

Meet Richie Suarez, the current Chief Resident at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia who will soon start his fellowship in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at Cincinnati Children’s this summer. Richie graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 2015 and completed his medical education at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in 2020.

Richie Suarez sits on a chair in a hospital room with hands clasped in front of him, with a hospital bed behind him.

On August 27th, 2010, Richie Suarez’s life changed when he received a diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The news deeply affected him, bringing initial shock and fear as he realized his life was about to change drastically in the coming years. However, this didn’t stop him from embarking on his college journey at Rowan University just two days after receiving the news. Starting college, which had once been filled with excitement and anticipation, now seemed overshadowed by the battle against cancer that lay ahead. Richie shared, “It started with a lot of shock and quickly moved through all the stages of grief.”

Richie spent his first year at Rowan balancing his time and effort between his medical treatments and academic responsibilities. Chemotherapy sessions were exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Yet, Richie refused to let his diagnosis define him. His determination to succeed in his studies never weakened him, and he managed to maintain a high GPA. “With the unwavering support of my family, friends, and the resources provided by Rowan’s counseling services, I managed to maintain a high GPA,” he said. For Richie, school became a comforting routine during such a chaotic time in his life, stating, “Getting back to playing baseball and going to college was when I started to feel normal again.”

Richie holds rounds in the hallway of a hospital, with hospital staff around him and a computer, listening to Richie's updates.

Through his own journey of fighting cancer, Richie discovered his life purpose: a desire to support others facing similar battles. This led him to pursue pediatric oncology, inspired by his own journey and the empathy he developed for young patients. Richie’s commitment helped him get through medical school and his pediatric residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, where he built strong, meaningful relationships with young patients. He said, “I remember what helped me so much and if I can do anything to help those kids out, I will.”

Richie’s time at St. Christopher’s was transformative, as he built connections with his young patients that went beyond pure medical treatment. His personal experience with leukemia allowed him to offer a unique blend of professional expertise and heartfelt empathy. “When I interact with patients, they don’t necessarily need to know that I had cancer, but I can definitely understand where they’re coming from.” His commitment did not go unnoticed, and he quickly became an inspiration within the hospital community.

A patient in a hospital bed having a conversation with a doctor.

Today, Richie Suarez is the Chief Resident at St. Christopher’s Hospital. Richie stated, “At this point in my life, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m wildly lucky to be where I’m at and to have what I have.” His experiences have shaped him into a professional who excels in his field and provides comfort and hope for his patients and their families. Richie’s journey is a powerful reminder that through adversity, one can find a sense of purpose and the strength to transform personal struggles into hope for others.

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Written by: Valentina Giannattasio, senior double major in marketing & dance