The 49-year-old plastic surgery resident
- Jim Leonardo
- 09/10/2010 at 12:00PM
Vincent Laurence, MD, Orange, Calif., joined the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school – before telling anyone of his plans. His parents, though fully supportive, “figuratively shook their heads” when they found out, Dr. Laurence recalls. They had the same reaction more than 25 years later when he informed them that he was going to enter medical school at age 44.
Now age 49, Dr. Laurence is among the oldest – if not the oldest – first-year plastic surgery residents ever to scrub for an O.R. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in May, Dr. Laurence, a Massachusetts native, sweated through “Match Day” to learn that he would fulfill his residency at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine.
PSN Extra asked Dr. Laurence: Why this? Why now?
“It wasn’t a midlife crisis, but I realized that this isn’t a dress rehearsal – it’s my life, and I wanted to do something more meaningful with it,” Dr. Laurence says. “I thought plastic surgeons have the ideal job: They come up with creative solutions to help people every day and do so by working with their hands. For most of my life, I’ve worked with my hands.”
Dr. Laurence’s varied skills set includes carpentry and woodworking, beekeeping, chicken farming, and landscape and garden design – the latter being the career he left to pursue medicine. “I’ve started several businesses relating to these interests,” he says. “The possibility of working with my hands doing something more inherently meaningful – specifically plastic surgery – was hugely appealing.”
Dr. Laurence has identified strong corollaries between some of his avocations and plastic surgery. “You need to understand the process beforehand and how all the parts and pieces integrate, you must have all the right tools and supplies ready, and you need to think several steps ahead. The mental skills are similar,” he says.
“But plastic surgery obviously involves much greater stakes,” Dr. Laurence adds. “If you build something with wood and it breaks, that’s bad, but it’s not a disaster. With surgery, it’s a different story. People’s lives are at stake.”
Though his medical school bills are already piling up, Dr. Laurence says that’s of little concern – his goal is to help people. Money is nowhere on his list of why he wanted to become a plastic surgeon. “I’m way in debt right now, but retiring at 55 was never a consideration,” Dr. Laurence says. “The work itself is the reward. This will all be worth it – the time, effort and financial challenges – the first time that I reconstruct a damaged arm or perform a successful flap procedure on a breast cancer patient. That first event will be momentous for me; I will have helped a suffering human being who really needed help.”
For Dr. Laurence, that’s all the reward he needs.