She cracked her ribs while hand washing laundry, but what pains her most is the thought of her husband, who passed away 12 years ago.
Most doctors would just be talking to this 90-year-old patient about her cracked ribs and trying to address her physical symptoms. But Scott Lawrence isn’t like most doctors, and he isn’t practicing medicine in the United States.
In a stifling room with only a small, pink fan to offer relief at Hospital Cristiano in Chocolá, Guatemala, Lawrence is treating between 30-60 patients every day and spending up to 30 minutes with each.
Rape, gunshot wounds, HIV, depression, carpal tunnel, and hernias are only some of the issues he dealt with this week.
“Here in Guatemala, I can spend as much time with the patient as I want. In the emergency room in the United States, the time spent with the patients is usually two to three minutes,” Lawrence said, who lives in Tyler, Texas.
Due to his passion for mission work, Lawrence and his daughter, Madison Lawrence, are spending one week as volunteers on a medical mission with Refuge International, a nonprofit group based in Texas.
With his athletic build and easygoing demeanor, the 59-year-old seems much younger. Madison’s friends thinks he dyes his light brown hair, she said, because he looks so young.
At Hospital Christiano, Lawrence’s work day starts at 8 a.m. everyday, and the clinic is supposed to close at 4 p.m. everyday. But there is always a long line of people waiting outside, and some of those patients have traveled incredibly long distances and slept outside the clinic to ensure they are able to see the doctor.
“Here in Guatemala, I can spend as much time with the patient as I want. In the emergency room in the United States, the time spent with the patients is usually two to three minutes.”
Moved by compassion, he often stays until 8 or 9 p.m. and sometimes skips dinner to ensure they receive the help they need.
Madison is working as a volunteer in the pharmacy right outside his makeshift office and is able to see first-hand the sacrifices her dad makes. She was the only one of her sisters that had not gone on a missions trip before, and he wanted her to experience it for herself. The startling juxtaposition of the lifestyles between an industrialized society and a third world country is one of the most important lessons he wanted her to experience.
“These people aren’t concerned about Ipads, but they are happy. From my perspective, I have seen patients coming in here that are working incredibly hard, they work until they can’t work anymore,” Lawrence said.
If he had continued on his original course in life, he wouldn’t have wound up in Guatemala. After serving as an air force pilot for twelve years, Lawrence reflected on his life.
It began with a soul-searching question. He asked himself how he could impact the most people with the time he had left. After reaching the peak point of his career and being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, he decided to go to medical school at the age of 37. Some of his friends thought it was a crazy decision, but it was actually very rational, he said. His degree in mechanical engineering had courses that would transfer over and count as his prerequisites for medical school.
“I didn’t have any debt, which is what allowed me to be able to go to medical school. I chose a profession that would still allow me to honor the commitments I had,” Lawrence said.
One of those commitments was that he had a full house with three daughters to provide for and returning to school presented him with various challenges.
“I had not done chemistry in 20 years. And even though some of my mechanical engineering credits transferred over, I hadn’t completed basic courses like Biology 101. I took some of those classes at a community college and took night classes at the University of Maryland. I applied the last week of the application process to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston,” Lawrence said.
He was accepted into the program and attended from 1995-1999. Being the oldest student in his classes meant that his priorities were drastically different from the other students, and he would multitask by studying for his classes while he was at his daughters’ softball games.
When he did his third year of residency, his two oldest daughters were in college. Moonlighting in surgery helped him earn extra money, and after his residency rotation ended at 5 p.m. everyday he would then work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
At the age of 50, he started working full-time as an emergency room doctor.
Dealing with problems at a rapid pace is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a doctor and was also one of his favorite parts of being an F-16 pilot. Building relationships and connecting with people is part of what makes his patients open up to him so easily, and he compares his work to that of a therapist. His job demands strong leadership skills and he believes he inherited those from his dad, Richard D. Lawrence, who served in the Vietnam War in the army and later retired as a three-star general.
Lawrence’s father also served as a mentor to Colin Powell, and an advisor to President Ford, Carter and Reagan. His father certainly led a full life, and the last assignment he had was serving as President of the National Defense University.
Aside from what he picked up from his dad, his wife has a strong influence on the way he leads. “My wife told me that leadership is 90 percent about relationships, and 10 percent based on objective.
I told her it is the other way around, and it turns out she was right,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence met his wife while they were both in high school. He was 16 years old and she was 14 years old. He taught her how to drive and said they would drive around for two hours talking. He considers his wife his best friend and always looks forward to their deep conversations.
“The best part of my day is sitting on my porch with my wife and drinking wine with her at the end of the day,” Lawrence said.
While Lawrence has been working in Guatemala, he was forced to use a translator to communicate with his patients.
Luis Rojas, 33, was born in Guatemala and loved having the opportunity to work as Lawrence’s translator.
“My favorite part of translating for him was how he would teach me. He explained everything so carefully and he would draw out diagrams for me. He has such a huge heart for all his patients and does his job with such passion,” Rojas said.
Rojas isn’t the only one who worked with Lawrence that is singing his praises.
Olivia Park, 39, is a nurse and team leader for Refuge international who also worked closely with Lawrence while they were in Guatemala.
“Dr. Lawrence spent more time with patients than most practitioners because he felt that the way to change the health of the community is to not only treat the patients but explain to them why what was happening to their bodies was happening so that they might then go and tell the community,” Park said. [He] saw some some days more than 50 patients, an extraordinary number for one practitioner. He would see anywhere from 30-60. He often skipped meals, and he would stay up late at night to talk with Madison about what had gone on that day. He worked tirelessly to not only treat patients but to teach them, Luis the translator, his daughter, and all of us.”
Even though he has lived a life that gave him two different careers, Lawrence feels that his life has been on one fairly smooth continuum.
“The things I learned as a pilot influence the way I practice medicine. There are times when I am going through something and I think I know how to deal with this based off a previous experience,” Lawrence said.
“Dr. Lawrence spent more time with patients than most practitioners because he felt that the way to change the health of the community is to not only treat the patients but explain to them why what was happening to their bodies was happening so that they might then go and tell the community...[He] saw some some days more than 50 patients, an extraordinary number for one practitioner... He often skipped meals, and he would stay up late at night to talk with Madison about what had gone on that day. He worked tirelessly to not only treat patients but to teach them, Luis the translator, his daughter, and all of us.”
Aside from working as a doctor and doing missions trips, he keeps busy back home by acting as the medical director for Pine Cove, a Christian camp. Madison describes her dad as being very active and doesn’t think he will ever retire.
“My dad really loves what he is doing, and my sisters are always calling him and asking him for advice. And he acts as a mentor to the kids at Pine Cove,” Madison said. “At the camp, kids always go up to my dad and ask him to tell stories, because he has such great stories to tell.”
When asked for advice on changing careers, Lawrence said he doesn’t regret his decision at all. He wants to encourage people who are thinking of making a career change.
“Be open to the things that drive you. If you are pulled in a direction that you are passionate about, then pursue that,” he said.