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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D.

Picture of Ruth A. Lawrence

Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D.

“I was a physics major during college, assigned to a work-study program at a pharmaceutical company researching consumers' product questions. I found it quite interesting and earned high grades for my work. So during my exit interview, I was asked if I was going to medical school. I'd never thought of it but six weeks later I had decided to and was very fortunate to be accepted at Rochester by Dr. George Whipple, dean of the medical school and a Nobel Prize winner in medicine.”


Louise M. Slaughter


In PDF format



Ruth A. Lawrence came of age during the Depression, a member of the World War II generation that "had nothing and did the best we could," as she recalls. In her case, that was to graduate magna cum laude from Antioch College and earn an M.D. from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, one of the few women of her era to do so.

"Honestly, we women were not welcome. I was glad to be there and just tried to do something I could," she says modestly. That included taking on the jobs that male colleagues did not want, such as responsibility for the university hospital nursery, an opportunity which Lawrence seized and, in the process, helped to pioneer neonatology as a specialty and become a world authority on the benefits of breastfeeding.

"Our motto was 'Don't let them see you sweat!" she laughs. As a prolific researcher, teacher, mentor, medical writer, international breastfeeding authority, poison control expert and, not least, mother of nine children (!), good humor and tireless commitment have hallmarked Lawrence's distinguished career.

Calling her a "sterling role model for aspiring women doctors," Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY-28) nominated Lawrence as a Local Legend of Medicine for her "numerous contributions to the Rochester community and to the practice of medicine," citing, especially, her "research, instruction and practice which have led to countless advancements in the field of lactation and breastfeeding."

At the University of Rochester School of Medicine, with which she has been closely associated since 1949, she is a professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology and a member of the Division of Neonatology. She also is Medical Director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center, which she founded in 1985, and Medical Director of the Finger Lakes Regional Poison and Drug Information Center, which she has guided since 1958-after helping to organize it in 1954, the second such center to open in the country.

Author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession , the standard reference work since its 1979 publication, and many articles, chapters and reviews, Lawrence is a founding member and a past president of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. As a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics work group on breastfeeding, she participated in the preparation of the Academy's statement on breastfeeding and human lactation, and is now on the Executive Committee of the Academy's Section for Breastfeeding.

"Breastfeeding makes a huge difference, physically, intellectually and emotionally," declares Lawrence, who also advocates strongly for women to become physicians. "Medicine is a great place for women. They're welcomed in most branches now and they can make great contributions-and still raise children!"

From her long vantage point, Lawrence believes the key to being a good doctor-male or female-is to really care about patients. "The science will come and go, but the best doctors understand people and are good communicators; they imbue trust and hope in people, and provide comfort when needed."



Appointed, successively, Associate Resident, Instructor and Clinical Instructor, and Senior Instructor in Pediatrics, University of Rochester


Serves as Medical Director, Finger Lakes Regional Poison Control Center


Appointed, successively, Assistant Professor and Associate Professor of Pediatrics; Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Rochester


Appointed, successively, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Rochester


Founds and serves as Medical Director, Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center, University of Rochester


Receives Albert David Kaiser Medal, Rochester Academy of Medicine


Serves as Medical Director, The Institute of Human Lactation, School of Public Health, University of New York at Albany


Serves as Member, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Association of Poison Control Centers


Receives Lifetime Achievement Award, American Academy of Clinical Toxicology


Recognized as one of America's Top Pediatricians by the Consumers' Research Council of America; elected a Fellow, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine




University of Rochester School of Medicine



Sub Specialty

Clinical Toxicology


New York