#Giving Back: Why It Matters!
Every day as a plastic surgeon, I get to live a key value which I hold dear, and which I believe is a cornerstone of the human experience: I help people. Our aesthetic patients enter our lives because they are dissatisfied with part of their outward appearance; our reconstructive patients enter our lives needing part of their bodies rebuilt, or repaired. When they leave our operating rooms and clinics—for they will never truly leave our lives—they feel and look closer to the true self they want and deserve. I hope we all entered this great field of plastic surgery for that overarching reason: because we wanted to help people improve, recover, or grow in some way.
I remember vividly when I was a medical student and watched Dr. Mel Spira at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, perform a cleft lip repair. I was hooked for life as I witnessed the transformation of a young baby, and from that moment forward, I wanted to become a plastic surgeon. The opportunity to give back to a patient form and function, to give back to a patient a semblance of normal and possibly a better life, and to give back to society was indeed made possible through plastic surgery. The opportunity and responsibility have motivated me each and every day I’ve been a plastic surgeon.
The role models I have had in plastic surgery demonstrated the humanitarian side of our specialty to me firsthand. Alongside them, and in their footsteps, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in international cleft trips to Haiti, Mexico, and throughout South America, during my residency and in my practice. Although these were charitable missions designed to help others, I believe that I required and benefited from these experiences more than anyone else. I sensed the need to give back for all that I had learned from my mentors in plastic surgery from all over the globe. I feel so fortunate for all that I have in my life; but I feel even more fortunate for the opportunity and ability to give back. A serious lesson from an ostensibly silly piece of theater applies here: in the musical Avenue Q the cast sings “When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself.” This all begs the question: Is giving back an innate, human response or a result of our life experiences?
If giving back were truly innate, I think more plastic surgeons would do so. To be sure, we all inherently want to leave the Earth a better place for our family and humanity. Eventually, we expand this goodwill toward our specialty and our patients molded by our experiences in life. Therefore, I believe giving back is a combination of our genetic composition influenced by our upbringing and surroundings. For example, my parents were wonderful role models for me, as they had so little in material goods but gave us so much in terms of life lessons. They emphasized to always help others less fortunate first and then you can help yourself next. I learned from them that everything would always work out if you prioritized helping those that could not help themselves. Although this is natural to me, it just seems we need more of this type of mindset in plastic surgery.
We must strive to make “giving back” an integral part of curriculum of medical training programs.