What is your “backstory”?
It’s pretty simple; there are no secrets or shortcuts. My backstory is all work and only a little play starting in grade school through high school, college, medical school and thereafter. I was the first-born child on both sides of my family with four Eastern European immigrant grandparents. They all started with very little other than a hunger to make things better for their kids. All I ever saw growing up were hardworking grandparents, parents and our entire extended family. It is all I have ever known, and hopefully my kids are watching my wife and I follow the same path now. It may sound like a platitude, but as far back as I can remember I have always wanted to help people and thought that being a physician was the best way to accomplish that. As a plastic surgeon, I am able to help people feel good about themselves either with a reconstructive procedure after breast cancer, or giving them a boost of confidence after a cosmetic procedure. I have also tried to live my life with the "do unto others...." motto, which always helps me make hard decisions.
Which person (or which company) do you most admire?
I really admire Sheryl Sandberg, not only for her intelligence and great professional achievements, but also for her character and how she dealt with her personal struggles. She is a self-made businesswoman and mother of two young children who suffered one of the worst imaginable tragedies--the sudden loss of her husband, Dave Goldberg. In her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and co-author Adam Grant describe some of the best ways to find strength in the face of adversity and ultimately how these techniques can help a broad range of people overcome hardships. Her story is one of perseverance and integrity, two qualities that I admire very much. As the father of two girls, I think she presents very positive and uplifting messages to young women.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m not sure I would call it success, but I am fortunate to have had good training from some of the masters of plastic surgery. Therefore, I have developed a skill set that I have been able to use to make people feel better about themselves, which is a very rewarding achievement. As a plastic surgeon, I am not curing a disease per se, but I am often in the position of taking care of patients who have undergone a traumatic event in their lives (skin cancer of the face, or breast cancer) or are trying to improve their appearance.
I recently performed a breast reduction on a graduating senior at a local high school. Due to the disproportionately large size of her breasts she was unable to do things most of her peers take for granted like participating in athletic activities, wearing clothing that fits well, etc. She was self-conscious, socially withdrawn, had terrible posture and poor self-esteem and in short was a setup for a difficult time in college. With her strong desire for change and the permission of her parents and psychiatrist, I performed a breast reduction before she went to college. Several months after her surgery, she came for a follow-up visit. The changes in her demeanor were striking, beginning with her model-perfect posture, eye contact, bright smile, and yes, smaller, proportionate breasts. Her parents later explained to me how her breast reduction surgery had a domino effect on so many aspects of her life. Although I have not cured cancer, or even the common cold, I guess you could say that this is my way of bringing a little more goodness to the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
When cosmetic surgery turns out well and is performed with care and precision, it is a total home run for the patient as well as the surgeon. We are not really just making breasts bigger or smaller, getting rid of an unwanted fat pocket, or smoothing a bump on a nose.
My number 1 thing I wish someone told me is that it’s more about giving patients renewed confidence, than just a great result. I believe that exuding confidence is one of the most important things that makes someone beautiful at every age. Confidence is very powerful and sexy. We can help people look in the mirror and like what they see, which makes all the difference in how they project themselves to the outside world.
My number 2 is that you need to say "no" to a procedure if you think that someone is doing it for the wrong reasons. Changing one's appearance to please another person never saves a failing relationship or makes for a happy patient. Every once in a while I’ll ask a woman what cup size they would like their breasts to be. If I see them looking at their boyfriend or spouse for the answer, that’s my tip off right there.
Number 3 is that no matter how much training you have had, how much experience you get practicing your craft, the learning never ends. I will essentially be a student for the rest of my life. There is always something more to learn. One little pearl that I pick up from reading an article in a medical journal or attending a workshop or conferring with a colleague can make all the difference in my technique. That is what keeps the art of plastic surgery perpetually fresh.
Number 4 for me is about how difficult it really is to manage a business, which is something that is not taught in medical school or residency. I have learned to reach out to business advisors for advice and help when I need it. Running an efficient plastic surgery practice is not easy and most of us are so focused on our techniques, dealing with patients, and getting good results, that we are not always adept at managing our practices. I have been very fortunate by having a loyal team and wonderful patients.
Lastly, my number 5 is how to achieve work-life balance. It sounds like a cliché, but it is definitely something you realize as you get older. Whether its spending time with family and friends, traveling, sailing or bird watching, it is important to figure out what counts to you and carve out the time early on in your career to do it. By the time a plastic surgeon starts out in practice there has already been so much delayed gratification. I know this goes against the principles of what got me to where I am now, but I am continually evolving. I am not there yet, but hopefully 2018 will be the year I nail it.