I am tremendously grateful to have a career that I love as a plastic surgeon, but none of my milestones in medicine or in life have occurred in a vacuum.
Everything from my patient care philosophy to my technical surgical approaches has been informed in some way by the physicians and surgeons I have admired and trained with along the way. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are many giants of plastic surgery and aesthetic medicine not listed here, but this list offers a bit of insight into the people who have helped shape my worldview, my goals, my aspirations, and my day to day interactions with patients. Each in a different way, these doctors have taught me the value of study, precision, empathy, leadership, scientific rigor and, above all, putting patients first.
My father, a retired head and neck surgeon, taught me from a young age that compassion and technical skill go hand in hand. He taught me to always listen to my inner voice — the little voice that compels you to double-check a lab result, take a second look at a surgical wound, or personally call to check in on a patient. He was the first person who told me to “never let the sun rise or set on a problem,” a piece of advice I would later hear hundreds of times throughout my surgical residency. And most importantly, he underscored the importance of always doing the right thing for the patient.
The big picture thinker
Dr. Mike Merson was the Dean of the Public Health school at Yale when I was an undergraduate there, and he advised an independent study project I did on HIV and AIDS. During my studies, he introduced me to the concept of public health, the idea that medicine in a larger infrastructure can help millions of people at a time. Many years later, I still come back to this notion as I think about how to scale my impact as a plastic surgeon while continuing to run my practice. His influence inspired me to earn a Master’s in Public Health and in many ways has echoes in my role here at RealSelf.
I learned scientific rigor from Dr. Robert Macnab, my biochemistry professor at Yale. I loved his class and ended up working in his laboratory studying flagella. It was a far cry from plastic surgery, but the skills I learned helped me appreciate the precision and dedication that go into bench science. Under his watch, I started thinking about my skincare line, Scientific Beauty, where we create skincare products using ingredients with demonstrated and research-driven clinical efficacy.
Dr. Bruce Shields is an accomplished and celebrated opthamologist, clinician and surgeon, and I published my first major scientific paper while working in his lab at Yale. I’ve always been fascinated by the eyes, and my conversations with Dr. Shields have informed my conservative approach to eyelid surgery, where to me, less is more, and maintaining the natural character of the eyes is critically important. After all this time, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) is one of my favorite operations, and I can’t help but wonder if that is because of his early formative influence.
Complex reconstruction is the basis for cosmetic plastic surgery. It’s a lesson I learned from Dr. Paul Manson, who is the forefather of facial reconstructive surgery and was the Chief of Plastic Surgery when I was a medical student at Johns Hopkins University. He is known for complex and amazing cases repairing broken facial bones (many sustained during automotive accidents in the era before seatbelt laws and airbags), and his work with tiny titanium plates and screws is truly breathtaking. I think of his dedication and precision whenever I am doing a long operation.
I first met Dr. Eduardo Rodrigues, a master of complex free tissue transfer surgery, as a medical student at Johns Hopkins. I was mesmerized by both his incredible knowledge of anatomy and his technical skill, as I stood in the back of his crowded operating rooms. In 2015, he successfully led the most complex face transplant in history for Mississippi firefighter Patrick Hardison, who was injured in the line of duty. Dr. Rodrigues studied under Fu Chan Wei, a microsurgery master in Taipei, who I had the opportunity to observe as a student. His work is not only a monument to incredible skill, it’s also a dramatic example of how plastic surgery can change people’s lives.
Dr. Julie Frieschlag ascended to the role of first female Chief of Plastic Surgery at Johns Hopkins while I was a medical student there. I had literally never seen a woman surgeon in this type of leadership position at such a prestigious institution before. Dr. Frieschlag inspired me to be brave and enter a male-dominated field, despite the many challenges that path presented and frankly still presents. I still often think about how courageous she has been at every turn of her career, especially as I progress in my own. I hope to be the type of role model she was to me, to the next generation of physicians and surgeons who wonder if they can do it.
A figurehead in New York plastic surgery, Dr. Sherell Aston’s contributions laid the groundwork for the modern facelift. He is inspirational as a thought leader and innovator, having dedicated considerable time to teaching his techniques to doctors around the world through lectures, live demonstrations and his seminal Cutting Edge Aesthetic Surgery Symposium in New York with Dr. Daniel Baker. I think all doctors in our field can be inspired by his commitment to share knowledge and move the entire field of cosmetic surgery forward.
Dr. Rod Rohrich is an all-out rhinoplasty genius who literally teaches the course on the procedure. Another inspiration for continued work in medical research, he is the editor-in-chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which is the official journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. I admire Dr. Rohrich’s career, his finesse in extremely complex tertiary and even quaternary rhinoplasties, and his commitment to adding knew knowledge to our field through scientific research.
Dr. Grant Stevens is not only a lauded plastic surgeon, but he is also a thoughtful, intelligent, and inspirational leader. As president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), where he heads up a 2,600-member professional organization, he is widely regarded as a collegial and magnanimous person. I admire Dr. Stevens as a plastic surgeon, but also as a paragon of leadership both inside and outside the operating room–and an example of how leadership benefits patients and the profession.
In my role as Chief Medical Officer at RealSelf, I am dedicated to representing the perspectives of both doctors and patients at the highest level. I will be incorporating what I have learned from these inspirational doctors in my work to help RealSelf continue to improve patient resources, physician education, and transparency in medical information.