Atlanta VA Health Care System
VA Employee Earns Nurse Practitioner of the Year Award
Dr. James F. Lawrence, Jr., a nurse practitioner at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, has been awarded the 2012 State Nurse Practitioner Excellence Award by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. The award is given annually to a dedicated Nurse Practitioner in each state who demonstrates excellence as a leader, advocate, role model, and clinician in their area of practice. Lawrence will receive his award during the Academy’s 27th annual conference scheduled for June in Orlando, Fla.
Lawrence works in the medical center’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation clinic. His patients are severely injured military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those living in chronic pain. He also works as a part-time nurse practitioner with Guardian Hospice and is a part-time faculty member at Georgia State University and Georgetown University.
Lawrence received his Doctorate in Research and Theory Development in Nursing from the Medical University of South Carolina, his Masters of Science in Nursing from Emory University, his Educational Specialist and Masters of Education degrees in Administration and Education from the University of South Carolina, his Bachelor of Arts degree in Teaching from Wofford College, and his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Seton Hall University.
"My family and close friends call me an overachiever," Lawrence observed. "Maybe that’s what I am. I don’t know."
Lawrence has a strong primary care clinical background in geriatrics with over 15 years of practice in rural and urban settings and also in private, group, and institutional practices. He has published nationally and internationally on concerns that focus on geriatric nursing, advance directives, palliative care, and issues related to vulnerable populations.
His interest in helping vulnerable populations began at an early age. "My mother bought a nursing home when I was 9 years old," he said, "so I sort of grew up in a nursing home. I was there a lot, helping out. I would push the residents around in their wheelchairs and take them where they needed to go."
"My mother bought a nursing home when I was 9 years old, so I sort of grew up in a nursing home."
Lawrence has received three state awards and six national awards for his achievements in nursing, and formerly served as healthcare adviser under Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue and, later, under President George W. Bush. He has served on numerous state and national boards of directors ranging from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, South Carolina and Georgia Nurses Association, and the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association.
In 2009, he was inducted as a Fellow into the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and, in 2010, was recognized as one of the top 100 healthcare professionals working in geriatrics by the Marquis’ Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare.
Robin Nelson is a nurse practitioner at Southeastern Geriatrics in Atlanta and a former colleague of Lawrence. She described him as "a great guy" with a big heart.
"He’ll go out late at night to check on a hospice patient who’s in pain, or in crisis," she said. "He also spends a lot of time with the families of his patients, trying to comfort them, and educate them about what’s going on with their loved ones. He has a real passion for education. I think he’s an educator at heart."
Another former colleague, Nancy DiFalco, is an assistant professor of Nursing at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She described Lawrence as a natural born teacher. "James worked directly with new nursing students here in the clinical nursing lab at Georgia State, teaching them the basics," she explained.
"He was a real role model for them. He taught by example. The students looked up to him."
DiFalco said that Lawrence, in addition to his responsibilities at VA, currently teaches new nursing students who are doing their clinical rotations at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta.
"He’s with the students when they walk into a patient’s room for the first time," she said. "That’s where James wants to be. He’s hands-on and hasn’t lost touch with the art of bedside nursing or bedside teaching. His students love him; he’s very professional, very dedicated. VA is lucky to have him."
Lawrence, 45, has been with VA less than a year. "I tried for a long time to get a job here, and I finally did," he said. "This is where I want to be. These kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan have given up a lot. They’re badly hurt. I feel lucky to be in a job where I can try to help them. I feel like I’m fulfilling my destiny, my purpose, here at VA."