Southeast Australia's first female plastic surgeon passes
Julie Lawrence, MD, was the first female plastic surgeon in Adelaide – and I knew her very well. In the early 1990s, early in her career, she used to visit me for clinic at Hamilton House Plastic Surgery and other hospitals, to watch me operate and assist me in complex procedures. In a way, she followed me as she entered the plastic surgery training program by completing a residency in Christchurch, New Zealand, at the Burwood and Christchurch Public Hospital. Some years earlier, I started my own training in plastic surgery there, so that was quite ironic – and she was mentored by some of the plastic surgeons who earlier had mentored me.
When she returned to Adelaide and after gaining her specialty diploma (FRACS), she came on board to the Repatriation General Hospital (a hospital for Veterans) as a consultant plastic surgeon, where I, too, was working. Subsequently, she started attending at the Hand and Plastic Surgery Clinics at Flinders University Hospital, where I was head of unit. When I retired from Flinders in 1995, a vacant post was created – to which Julie was appointed and remained for the next 20 years.
In parallel with that, she set up her own private practice – Brighton Day Surgery – and she became a highly sought-after specialist, especially for cosmetic surgery and hand surgery.
Julie entered plastic surgery at a time when it was unusual for women to become plastic surgeons. It was quite a challenge to be accepted into the training program, as it was (and still is) highly competitive for both men and women. In Julie's case, she had to spend some four years training in the United Kingdom and United States to gain her specialty degree, which involved bringing her family to each location.
When she returned to Adelaide, there would have been about 20 plastic surgeons in the city – and she was the only female plastic surgeons, so she comprised 5 percent of the female plastic surgical population. She certainly was an inspiration for young women to train in plastic surgery, as today there are 40 plastic surgeons in Adelaide – and eight are female, so the numbers of women in plastic surgery are increasing.
An obituary in The Adelaide Advertiser on Dr. Lawrence, who passed away May 25 at age 61, noted that she had treated an estimated 20,000-plus patients at Flinders – and that she was the first surgeon to operate at that institution. I think it would be fair to say that Julie Lawrence paved the way for women to be able to choose a career as a plastic surgeon in Adelaide. She was an inspiration to young women pursuing a career in plastic surgery – and she was a valued and welcome colleague who had much to offer to the specialty. She will be missed.