I spoke to the current year ten cohort at my old high school recently as part of a careers afternoon. I think I found it even more inspiring than the students did! I reminded myself of all the important milestones I had to achieve to be a plastic surgeon and the reasons why I chose this profession. My young audience was a little shocked when I explained that it took me the duration of their life to become a plastic surgeon. Six years of medical school, one year of internship, two years of surgical residency, two years as a general surgery registrar and four years as a plastic surgery registrar. Somehow I also managed to get married and have two children while doing ward rounds, operating, studying, sitting exams and attending hospital clinics. In my sixteenth post-high school year, I was also awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy.
The most essential and soul searching question my young audience asked me was, “What kept you going in those fifteen years?” The answer is simple – I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. I believe I belong to one of the best professions in the world. The immeasurable gratitude and respect my patients afford me when they have finished their surgical journey gives me the greatest high any professional can experience. I also have the privilege of becoming my patients’ confidante, advisor and friend. Today in the office, I reviewed a young artist whose tendon I repaired last week after a glass injury and then I saw one of my post-operative tummy tuck patients. They were both equally grateful. The enormous spectrum of plastic surgery has one common link- we restore form by restoring function. And vice versa.
What insight does being a female plastic surgeon give me? I understand first-hand the changes a woman’s body and face go through with time. I understand how critical a mother is to the smooth functioning of her family’s network. So many women put off essential plastic surgery to restore and help themselves because they are concerned that their family will not be able to cope without them during the recovery period. One of my breast reduction patients wanted to cancel her surgery this week because her young child has a cold! A woman should not be considered selfish if she is not selfless.
Being a female plastic surgeon entails so much more than just being a surgeon. I am an advocate for my patients, my profession and my gender. It is very important to me to stick up for the health “rights” of my patients. I am very proud to be a board member of ASAPS, which excels in providing the highest level of aesthetic education to our members and is an authoritative voice to help improve the public’s understanding of our profession. Finally, when I started my plastic surgery training, there were only four female plastic surgeons in New South Wales. Now we have eleven female plastic surgery registrars in training. It gives me great pleasure to mentor these women to become great surgeons.
Plastic surgery empowers women. While we are unfortunately faced with ridiculous photo-shopped images of perfect faces and bodies in magazines and billboards, it is not a plastic surgeon’s goal to sculpt women into manufactured perfection. It is our goal to help women regain their confidence by looking as good as they feel. You can tell who the post-operative patients are in my waiting room- they are the women with a strong smile, tall posture and a little skip in their stride. They are happy, healthy and beautiful.