Resident Spotlight

Lawrence Field: Doctor, Teacher, Mentor, Crocodile!

By Jeri O’Neill

Watch out, crocodiles have free rein in Dr. Lawrence Field’s home! Various exotic representations of the swamp creatures slither between table legs or lazily recline on shelves. “Crocodiles are an evolutionary symbol of success,” Lawrence points out, and his success is reflected in the multitude of awards he has received for his exemplary work in dermatologic surgery. The crocodiles co-exist with a tasteful décor that is complemented by a multitude of unique gifts he received from his students from around the world.

Lawrence was born in Chicago, to Austrian-Hungarian monarchy immigrant parents, Howard and Frieda. Howard, a physician, worked for a coal mining company monitoring the health of the miners before moving the family to southern Wisconsin to pursue less dangerous employment, when Lawrence was four years old.

As a young man, Lawrence was active in the Boy Scouts and became an Eagle Scout at 15. It was during World War II and Eagle Scouts also participated in the Civil Defense program. Lawrence proudly wore the official CD armband as he went about his duties.

He attended the University of Missouri Medical School and then pursued a dual residency in internal medicine and dermatology at Kansas City General Hospital. The hospital was segregated at the time and an underground tunnel connected the two sections. Interestingly, the side rooms in that passageway also served as hiding places for some of the city’s most notorious criminals who belonged to the corrupt Pendergast machine.

During the Second World War, Lawrence served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was later called up as a reservist during the Korean Conflict.

He was groomed to become the dermatologist when he was posted to the University of Missouri at Columbia. Eventually, his work became humdrum, so he accepted a position, in the late ‘50’s, with the Arabian-American Company (Aramco) as a dual specialist/consultant in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. “They were looking for me,” he noted, with a twinkle in his eye. Simultaneously, Lawrence became the dermatologic consultant to the Royal Family of His Majesty King Saud bin Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, and also a consultant dermatologist to the U.S. Air Force Base in Dhahran.

In 1963, he re-located to Stanford University Medical Center. After taking over Dr. Alan Watson’s office in San Luis Obispo, in 1965, Lawrence established a private practice at 84 Santa Rosa Street, near Sierra Vista Hospital, in a beautiful glass enclosed edifice that perches over the creek.

Lawrence is very satisfied that he was able to contribute his skills pro bono to the less fortunate. He was the only local dermatologist who donated his time to charity patients at General Hospital and the clinics at Cal Poly and Men’s Colony.

Lawrence gets very animated as he describes the many UCSF fellows he has mentored over his 25 years in the San Luis locale. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge with the next generation of physicians. Lawrence is recognized worldwide for his expertise. He inaugurated the International Traveling Mentorship Program of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, earning him the title, “Father of International Dermatologic Surgery” by the Dermatologic and Aesthetic Surgery International League in 2012.

He’s also been on the cutting edge – no pun intended – with some of the most recent advances in dermatology. One of the most impressive has been his work in microscopically controlled cancer surgery. Lawrence assisted Fred Mohs, who discovered the technique, beginning in 1951. Lawrence was also the first dermatologic surgeon in the world to be involved with liposuction.

Over the years, Lawrence has come in contact with many pioneers in his field. An interesting anecdote concerns one of his mentors, Alastair Carruthers, and his wife, Jean, an ophthalmologist who observed that botulinum toxin could be used as a skin enhancer. Jean had been injecting the poison near the brow of a patient who suffered from uncontrollable blinking. The toxin relieved the twitching. The patient requested a shot in her forehead, too. When the doctor stated that there wasn’t a problem in that area, the patient replied that her wrinkles had disappeared after the previous treatment. Apparently, the toxin had seeped into the patient’s forehead. After realizing what happened, Jean called Alastair, who was visiting Lawrence at the time. Later, Jean convinced her receptionist to undergo what would become the first Botox treatment for wrinkles in history. Once Alastair saw the results, he realized it could be used for dermatological applications.

Lawrence’s lifetime achievements are so numerous, it’s mind boggling to think that one man could have accomplished so much. His CV (Curriculum Vitae – a medical professional’s resume) is 541 pages. Lawrence has authored 1,997 combined publications and presentation; 745 papers/chapters published, and 1,282 papers, presentations, and clinical/laboratory demonstrations at national and international meetings. In addition, there are 23 contributions pending!

Lawrence recently moved from a gorgeous condominium in the Bay area to The Palms to be closer to his son. He subsidized extra costs to make several design alternations in his new apartment, and, like so many things in Lawrence’s life, the end result is a success. Yes, if Lawrence were an animal, he definitely would be a crocodile.

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James (Son)

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