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Rear Admiral Lawrence

Rear Admiral Lawrence Prescribes Mentors as the Key to Success

  • After a lifetime of serving the country, Rear Admiral Lawrence credits all success to his mentors.

    Rear Admiral (RADM) Arthur J. Lawrence Jr. has always been what he terms a “science geek.” His passion for science can be traced back to his boyhood, to one day in particular, when he asked his dad for a larger allowance so that he could afford to refill his chemistry set. His father, a World War II navy veteran and a life-long blue-collar milkman, responded by telling him to get a job. Thus began his career at Marshall’s Drug Store, the one place he knew he could find chemicals for his chemistry set.

    At first, the drugstore duties of teenage RADM Lawrence consisted of sweeping, restocking shelves, cleaning out the soda fountain, and serving hot-fudge sundaes. So how did the boy serving sundaes at the local drugstore become one of the highest-ranking officials in the United States Public Health Service? RADM Lawrence would tell you that the credit for his long list of accomplishments belongs to his equally long list of mentors, the first two of whom introduced him to the practice and profession of pharmacy at none other than that small-town drugstore in Manchester, New Hampshire.

    The homemade fudge sauce on those sundaes RADM Lawrence served was made by one of his employers, drugstore co-owner Walter Y. Chatfield. Later, “Walt,” as RADM Lawrence refers to him, would not only show him how to make said fudge sauce, but also how to compound salicylic acid and coal tar topicals as well. When they removed the soda fountain from the drugstore, Walt and his partner, co-owner Edward M. Breck (“Ed”), decided that RADM Lawrence needed more responsibilities. Since Walt had worked for a pharmaceutical manufacturer in New Hampshire, A. Perley Fitch, (based in Concord and Manchester, New Hampshire), he trained his apprentice with a focus on compounding. Meanwhile, Ed used his background as the head instructor of the hospital corps school at Great Lakes Naval Training Center during the Korean War to train RADM Lawrence in anatomy, clinical care, and the then up-and-coming field of pharmacology. Both of these specialties became integral to the shaping of RADM Lawrence’s career.

    During his time at MCPHS, RADM Lawrence was so well-trained in compounding that he later learned that some of his MCPHS professors inserted a tracer (phenolphtalein) into his source materials to ensure that his lab products were genuinely made in the lab. By his final year at MCPHS, RADM Lawrence’s interest had switched over to a clinical track. Inspired and prepared by Ed, RADM Lawrence took graduate-level courses applicable to psycho-neuropharmacology, a field of prime interest, before graduating with his Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy. Regarding his ambition as an undergraduate student, RADM Lawrence says, “It’s not about me. It’s because of Ed and Walt”.

    Another perk of working at Marshall’s Drug Store was the opportunity to connect with a network of pharmacists. Even as a teenager, RADM Lawrence was sage enough to recognize the importance of the lessons his superiors wanted to teach him. “Students need to carefully listen to people with skills who are trying to tell them something,” he says. One such mentor was MCPHS alum, Jean Robitaille, BSP ’63, whom he met at Marshall’s Drug Store. Up to that point, RADM Lawrence was worried that his SAT scores were too low to consider a career in pharmacy, but Jean Robitaille saw his potential and pushed him to apply to MCPHS. He even went so far as to drive the RADM Lawrence to his interview. To this day, RADM Lawrence says that he tries to emulate the encouragement of people in his life like Jean Robitaille and his professors at MCPHS. His own struggles and the support he received through them made RADM Lawrence “sensitive to those who hold promise and might need a helping hand.”

    Early in his career RADM Lawrence discovered his skills in planning, organizing, and implementing pharmacy services. Once again, RADM Lawrence would modestly tell you that he was just “mimicking [his] mentors.” He particularly admired two role models from his internship at MGH: John Webb, Director of Pharmacy, and Siraj Shamsi, founder of MGH’s programs in clinical pharmacy practice. After spending over three years in hospital practice in New Hampshire after graduation, RADM Lawrence was recruited to the Brighton Marine Hospital, which was part of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). There, he applied his clinical skills to inpatient and ambulatory services. Chief of Pharmacy, Captain Alfred Rosenberg, USPHS, Ret. (MCPHS, BSP ‘37) commended his skills for clinical organization. This inspired him to enroll part-time in Suffolk University’s MBA program with a concentration in organizational development. Through a research project, RADM Lawrence managed to get pharmacists in the ambulatory care setting access to the patient charts, in which prescriptions were written. He designed and reorganized the hospital’s system to experiment with “chart filling” to provide pharmacists with all the same clinical information that the physicians had. Ambulatory care pharmacists now had the same ability as the inpatient service pharmacists to make clinical judgments and care and treatment recommendations based on a complete medical record.

    When the USPHS reviewed RADM Lawrence for a customary transfer, he was given the opportunity to do some program management work and clinical consultancy at a regional office. He was transferred to the USPHS Regional Office – Philadelphia where he variously developed and managed programs such as the National Health Service Corps, Urban-Rural-Migrant Community Health Centers, and Black Lung Programs. This position led to many others, as well as the opportunity to be placed on training-out-of-service and earn a PhD in Management Science and Applied Economics at the Wharton School, Department of Social Systems Sciences, University of Pennsylvania. Sometime thereafter, he was assigned to the National AIDS Program Office - Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health in Washington, where he eventually became Director. Years later, when the HIV/AIDS program was being reorganized, RADM Lawrence became the Acting Deputy Director of the National HIV/AIDS Office at the White House. He spent two years at the White House before returning to the USPHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, where he restructured the USPHS National AIDS Program Office to make it more patient-care focused, in keeping with the newly enacted Ryan White legislation. Although he worked his way up in the USPHS to earn the title of U.S. Assistant Surgeon General and the rank of Rear Admiral, he declined political appointments, firmly believing that his scientific career and efforts should be independent of party affiliation.

    RADM Lawrence can list off numerous people who have had an influence on his life, no matter how long ago they met. For example, in the late 1970’s, when RADM Lawrence became the junior member of the USPHS-wide Pharmacist Career Development Committee, his direct professional supervisor, Admiral Al Brands, who was Chairman and USPHS Chief Pharmacy Officer, was a key advisor to him. Another influential presence in his life was Anthony Fauci, who ran the NIH AIDS office when RADM Lawrence was in the Assistant Secretary’s office and worked with him on a frequent basis. These relationships exemplify RADM Lawrence’s point that mentors can appear at any time and in any form, whether they are supervisors or colleagues, “known or virtual,” so long as one is observant and open to the possibility of learning from them.

    RADM Lawrence says that his ability to observe and absorb the lessons of his mentors goes back to the foundation of pharmacy. “Pharmacists are uniquely qualified to do anything,” he says. “[They] are in pivotal positions to do good in a variety of domains.” He believes that the value of pharmacists lies in their education in holistic assessment skills, which are important to the patient, the condition, and the needs, and can be applied more generally in life. Clinical pharmacy also taught him critical communications skills, because he often had to explain the science of a situation to colleagues, “my patients” as he refers to them. This was particularly useful when he was serving as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health and responsible for the direction of the national health response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and with responses to subsequent anthrax releases through the postal system in 2001.

    Now retired, RADM Lawrence continues to help the community by engaging in efforts to support veterans and their families. With wisdom culminated from a lifetime of mentors, his message to MCPHS students is a motivational one: “Use the skills you have to improve the lives of those around you.”