BY NEIL COTIAUX
Growing up in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, she wasn’t sure what was going on with her grandmother but knew that she had become ill. “That moment forward, I wanted to help other families if possible with the element of the unknown,” she says.
Entering Health Careers Center High School, an open-enrollment facility on East 71st Street that lets students explore careers in nursing, dentistry, and exercise science, Lawson developed a deeper interest in caring for others. With a nearly 90 percent female student body, and with the initial skills that she learned through a specialized curriculum, Lawson began to fathom her capabilities as a young woman.
In 2010, after graduating from Bowling Green State University with a degree in science biology, Lawson looked for a way to clear the decks of debt.
“I had already taken out student loans for my undergraduate degree, and I didn’t want any more debt,” the East Side Clevelander says. So, at age 22 she joined the Navy, and her career took flight.
Assigned to the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that makes its home port at Yokosuka, Japan, Lawson now had a steady income with which to retire her loans — and an opportunity to advance in her chosen field.
On board a nearly 100,000-ton carrier that transports more than 70 jets, helicopters, other aircraft, and a 3,300-member crew, Petty Officer Second Class Lawson at first felt overwhelmed.
“It is a huge ship with a lot of people,” she says. But she was also exhilarated. She observed planes being loaded on and off the flight deck, made friends with shipmates, and looked forward to the shore passes that would allow her to experience different countries and cultures. Below deck, she honed her skills as a hospital corpsman.
In the central sterilization room, Lawson assists four general dentists, an oral surgeon, a hygienist, and four technicians who care for patients across six operatories.
“I clean every instrument that the dentist and hygienist use. I also take x-rays on patients who come in for annual exams, root canals, crowns, and fillings,” she says. “Over the past three and a half years, I learned that dental is harder than most people think.”
The Navy recently approved Lawson’s application to become a physician assistant as she seeks further career growth. Later this year, she’ll return stateside for training in San Antonio and San Diego.
“Professionally, all I’ve worked for my entire life was to become some form of doctor and, thanks to the Navy, I will accomplish just that by becoming a physician assistant,” Lawson says.
During downtime, Lawson works out and, like so many enlisted personnel before her, gets to watch repeated showings of “Top Gun” and “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
“I think I know every word in ‘Top Gun,’” she says.
During shore leave, she learned to rock climb in Hong Kong and experienced the adrenalin rush of zip lining in Singapore. But nothing beats what she sees when the carrier plies the open waters, half a world away from home.“The most joy I get is watching the sunset,” the Collinwood native says. “It’s so beautiful.”
At lights out, she climbs into her bunk — sleeping with headphones to drown out the carrier’s noise — and prepares for the start of a new day as she moves one step closer to becoming part of the Navy Medical Service Corps. Will she re-up? “I’m leaning toward staying in a little longer than expected,” Lawson says.
For more information: navy.mil