How I Found My Way Into Medicine


People always tell me that I have the best job in the world, I really do.  First of all, medicine in general is a great profession.  The knowledge, the training, the experience, make it all very challenging and exciting on its own, and then to be able to help people with something as personal and important as their health and well-being, that’s where the reward really comes in.  And I think that being a surgeon goes another level beyond that, in changing the structure of another human being, and with Plastic Surgery, the appearance.

 I wanted to be a doctor since I was ten years old, and back then, it was a Heart Surgeon!  With a lot of ambition and very little information, I started working in hospitals beginning at age 15 at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, where I was born and raised.  I sat in on an autopsy, which was fascinating (at least to me!), and by the time I hit college (University of Utah), I started working on a pediatric floor and sort of abandoned the idea of surgery.  Kids were fun and innocent, and the thought of wearing a surgical mask all day seemed suffocating…I know, really deep issues when picking a profession.  I kept working and going to school, helped publish a research paper, and was a counselor for several years at a Summer Camp for kids with Cystic Fibrosis, most of whom I took care of at the hospital.  By the time I hit my third year of  medical school, also at the University of Utah, I was starting to take rotations in the various specialties, and that is when the surgery bug came back around; Specifically, at about 2:00am outside a surgical suite, with an operation in progress, the room dark except for the OR lights and Led Zeppelin “Kashmir” booming on the radio... That was it for me.

 From then on I was committed to surgery (besides I had already concluded that the Pediatrician “uniform” of  Hushpuppy shoes and a koala bear stethoscope were not a good look for me..) and specifically, Plastic Surgery.  In that specialty, I found the most variety and interest for me.  There was burn surgery, micro-surgery, limb and digit re-attachment, cranial defect surgery, cancer reconstruction, hand surgery, you could make a breast smaller, you could make a breast bigger and you could make one when it was missing from birth or cancer, cleft lip and palate surgery, trauma reconstruction surgery, now transplant surgery of faces and limbs, and of course, what most people think of when they hear Plastic Surgery, Cosmetic. But I found it ALL exciting, and still do.

 At the end of my third year of the General Surgery portion of my residency, I was bumped up to a fifth year position, which had me finishing early, so I spent that year in Phoenix, Arizona in a pre-residency Plastic Surgery fellowship with some very talented and well known surgeons like Dr. Rex Peterson and Dr. Jack Friedland to name only two.  So by the time I began my full two year residency in Plastic Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia (now Georgia Health Sciences University), I was already exposed to instruction from some of the leaders in the field.  In Georgia, I met Dr. Renato Saltz. He came from Brazil and was one of our Attending Physicians, along with Dr. Steve Smith and our Chairman, Dr. Kenna Given.  Over the next two years I was introduced to philosophies and surgical techniques, not only from what my own professors and those I visited in the surrounding area, like John Hartley in Atlanta had to offer, but even world-renown surgeons from Brazil whose visit Dr. Saltz had arranged.  There was something very different and intriguing about the latter exposure and I asked Dr. Saltz to arrange a preceptorship for me, where I could travel to Brazil and spend time with some of the finest surgeons from that country.  I finished in Georgia, and traveled first to Sao Paolo and then to Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, then ending in Rio de Janeiro. 

 For me, it was like a kid in a candy store!!  I spent time with Drs. Ishida, Pontes, Martins, Gemperli, Chiari Junior and ended with Dr. Ivo Pitanguy in Rio.  Because this was following already 3 years of Plastic Surgery training, I felt that I now knew enough to know what I didn’t know!  I would take notes and photos on one side of the body and then scrub into the surgery on the other (very fortuitous for me that most things in the body come in pairs...).  The experience was phenomenal.  I learned techniques that were so different from what I had seen before and in my mind, I thought advantageous as well.  So when I started practice in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in 1993, I was ready to jump in with both hands, not feet.  I really felt like I was given a rare gift and opportunity with all of my training, and not just cosmetic.  I did trauma call, spent nights up running from ER to ER, did pressure ulcer surgery on paralyzed patients (even doing house calls to check on was just easier!), hand surgery, re-attached cut off fingers, sewed up eight year olds with dog bites, and eighty year olds who bumped their leg on a table.  I became the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, passed my Plastic Surgery board certification,  and even managed to round up a few cosmetic cases.  I have to say, I am always a little disappointed in some of my colleagues who finish this wonderful and exhaustive training opportunity, only to start private practice wanting to do just “lipo and boobs”.  I know they can and I know Cosmetic Surgery is a very legitimate part of the whole spectrum of Plastic Surgery.  And I know I don’t feel the same about my peers who just go in to Plastic Hand Surgery after their residency.  Maybe I just think my specialty has so much more to offer…So I started lecturing at ASU, became an Affiliate Assistant Professor at Midwestern University, and started teaching at the Osler Institute, that helps younger Plastic Surgeons prepare for their board certification.  I really enjoy my professorship and having both Medical and Physician's Assistant Students come through my practice.  It gives me the chance to give something back and it keeps me in touch with today's medical education.

 As happens with many Plastic Surgeons, my Cosmetic Surgery practice began to grow to the point that it started crowding out some of the other things… And it wasn’t fair to my Facelift patient having surgery at 7:30 AM, if I was up all night operating on a gunshot wound to the face.  So applying what I had learned, things got busier and my schedule more full.  By 2007 in comparing our practice to other members of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, where they were doing an average of 30 Tummy tucks, we were doing 68; Where they were doing 23 Breast Lifts in a year, we were doing 125; And Breast Augmentation? The Society average was 78 for the year and we were 244! 

 I have been very lucky in my practice and owe so much to the men and women that helped train me and continue to do so, as I continually attend lectures of my peers, trying to improve everything I do.  I do believe in the techniques that I have learned and I think, in my hands, I can get an aesthetically pleasing and reproducible result.  My goal is not to make everyone a supermodel and thank heaven, most of my patients are not looking for that. I love what I do because most of my patients are pretty happy with themselves and are just looking to feel even better about some “thing” that just bugs them.  It’s fun for me to help make that happen.  I think one thing that you’ll find in this practice is a very approachable doctor and his staff , who really try to listen to what the patient wants and make them feel very, very comfortable in their decision to try and make themselves just a little happier than they were before they walked in my door.  And that makes it the greatest job in the world.