Ryan Lawrence didn’t choose Lakeland College thinking he’d someday repair shattered bones and help replace knees and hips. But that’s what he’s doing now, and the 2011 graduate loves it.
Lawrence, 26, is a board certified physician assistant for Aurora Health Care in the Milwaukee area. He assists one primary orthopedic surgeon, but helps others in a pinch. He is the first assistant in surgery at four facilities, which means he’s responsible for many aspects of all operations, including the closure of skin, incisions, suturing and stapling.
“I’m basically the surgeon’s second set of hands,” he says.
Lawrence, who grew up in Sheboygan, Wis., as a self-described “homebody,” liked Lakeland’s proximity to home and its close-knit culture. He played baseball for the Muskies for two years, and worked on the grounds crew for three.
“I really liked the campus and met some great friends,” he says.
Academically, he was interested in orthopedics, so he gravitated toward health-related biology classes in Lakeland’s natural sciences division. One professor brought in a Lakeland grad who was a physician assistant. That guest visit motivated Lawrence to work toward the same career path, which meant gaining admission into a master’s program. He graduated from Lakeland with a degree in biology, then attended The University of Findlay in Ohio, where he completed a 27-month program and graduated in December, 2014.
“The best thing about Lakeland, and it’s something I realized even when I was there, is that with only a handful of students for each professor, you really form great bonds with your professors,” he says. “They take so much time to help you, and they give great references. They definitely helped me get to the next level.”
Wanting to return home to Wisconsin, Lawrence was ecstatic when he received a job offer from Aurora the week before graduating from Findlay.
“My first surgery was a total hip replacement, just a couple of days in, right after orientation,” he recalls. “But I knew exactly what to expect.”
Now, he and the surgeon he works with perform between five and 10 procedures a week, including scheduled operations and after-hours emergency surgeries.
“One night last week, we were in the operating room until after 10:30 taking care of a severe femur fracture,” he says. “Hip and knee replacements are straight forward. The mood is calm and laid-back. But sometimes with these fracture cases, there can be quite a lot of blood when we open it up. That’s when we have to determine what we’re going to do, and everyone’s adrenaline is pumping.”
Lawrence says he’s thankful his Lakeland experience helped guide him to this highly satisfying career, one that allows him to help people almost every day.
“We are fixing patients’ problems instantaneously,” he says. “When we replace a knee or hip, we are, in just a couple of hours, taking away their pain. It’s so rewarding helping patients go from being debilitated to leading active lives.”