CMA Doc: Michael Lawson, M.D.

March 30, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Gastroenterology Physician Leadership 


Name: Michael Lawson, M.D.
City: Sacramento
Specialty: Gastroenterology
Member Since 1995

Sacramento gastroenterologist Michael Lawson, M.D., known as "the gut guru," has been the lead investigator on many studies which have led to new treatment protocols and drug regimens for people with colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or dyspepsia. 


“I want my research to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Dr. Lawson. And his research has made a difference for decades, especially for people with serious gastrointestinal problems that affect their health, well-being and quality of life.


Dr. Lawson is also making a huge difference in the lives of Sacramento-area patients who are suffering, but cannot afford specialty care—through the "Sacramento Physicians Initiative to Reach Out, Innovate, and Teach," or SPIRIT, a program of the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society. Dr. Lawson is one of the program’s 75+ physician volunteers, who provide care for nearly 1,800 patients a year doing everything from basic family medical care within community clinics to eye surgery and hernia repairs.


"I feel that I have been very fortunate to have a fulfilling career where I have been able to help people and provide for my family," says Dr. Lawson. "Giving back to the community is a way for me to show my gratitude and share my good fortune. Philosophically, as a physician my mission has been to help reduce suffering regardless of reimbursement."


The SPIRIT Program was started in 1995 with $300,000 in grant money from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In 2016, SPIRIT Program volunteers treated 5,000 patients that otherwise would not have had access to specialty care.  Since the program began, the SPIRIT Program has treated over 50,000 patients, donated over 50,000 of physician hours and performed 850 free surgeries. To date, the SPIRIT Program has donated more than $10 million in free care to the uninsured.


Providing health care to people who cannot afford it can be very satisfying. "The motivation to continue comes from the gratitude shown by the patients attending the clinic and the obvious need that these patients have to access quality specialty care," says Dr. Lawson, who also volunteers overseas in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Cambodia.


After spending several years in academic medicine, including two and a half with UC Davis, Dr. Lawson in 1991 joined Kaiser Permanente. In 2011 he was honored with the prestigious Morris F. Collen Award for his research at Kaiser Permanente.  He has been a member of the California Medical Association and SSVMS since 1995.


In 2014, Dr. Lawson teamed up with clinical psychologist Jessica Del Pozo to write “The Gut Solution,” which addresses the underlying emotional, neurological and behavioral factors that affect the digestive system.


Three years ago, Dr. Lawson retired from clinical practice, but he continues to volunteer his time in Sacramento and around the world—and intends to do so as long as he is able.


"I'm lucky that I can make a difference," says Dr. Lawson. "I want to be looked back on as someone who made a difference. That's very important to me." 


To learn more about the SPIRIT Program, how to join Dr. Lawson as a volunteer or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.ssvms.org/programs.aspx


California's doctors aren't just health care and medical experts. They're also community leaders, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and policymakers dedicated to ensuring that patients receive quality health care at an affordable cost. #CMAdocs showcases California physicians leading the charge to help their communities thrive.

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