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Why on Earth Did I Became a Plastic Surgeon?

Written by Emily Hartmann MD

April 28, 2020

I get this question almost daily. I get it. When I was first starting out in medical school, I had a complete misconception about this totally awesome field.

We are all brought here for one divine purpose: to be true to ourselves. As a plastic surgeon, I am constantly introduced to people seeking support- in one way or another- in an effort to feel whole. They can range from a 42-year-old mother of 4 (who would very much like to feel comfortable looking at herself in the mirror again), an older gentleman (with a hole in his nose from cancer removal), to a transgender patient (who would like their inside gender to be in congruence with their outside appearance). They are all seeking alignment with their true self.

I was raised in a relatively small Northern California town and my introduction to plastic surgery was in my teens watching Dr. 90210 on television. With his flashy Beverly Hills exterior, and fancy patients seeking cosmetic surgery, I naturally gained the judgements that many others share of plastic surgery. I truly believed that anyone seeking plastic surgery was vein and frivolous. Plastic surgery was (for sure) the last thing on my mind when I started medical school at Georgetown University. Once I realized that I loved surgery, the ability to make an immediate change for people, I was hooked. The only downside for me was that I really needed the human connection, and, as a busy medical student, this was often the last piece we discussed. We were so busy learning about disease pathology, surgical postoperative care, and, basically, “how to keep people from dying” that the “finding out what makes people tick” was an afterthought. I even remember lingering behind the rounding group because a patient, a little old lady, wanted to tell me about her cats. My chief resident at the time said, “Pouch (my nickname on the general surgery service after a famous bowel surgery call the Hartmann), this is surgery not psychiatry, catch up!”

When my last clinical rotation rolled around, plastic surgery, I had already decided to apply to a neurosurgery residency and this was the only thing I had to complete to finish medical school. What is funny about the universe is that it will always surprise us when we least expect it. My very first morning rounding on my plastic surgery rotation, I was presented with a patient, a beautiful 18-year-old girl, who had just had her breast reconstructed. She was born with Poland’s Syndrome and one entire breast and musculature did not form. She was tearful in telling me how long she had waited for this opportunity- how she got into drugs, and sex, early in life because her confidence was very low- and how this surgery had helped her reflect her true self. With tears in my eyes, and a swelling in my heart, I realized that plastic surgery was so much more than vanity or frivolity. This was an opportunity to dive inside, to the core, and to lift them up- in whatever way best serves their need. To offer them a glimmer of hope…heck, the main point is to “find out what makes them tick” and help them reach alignment.

#BEwellSURG @Beautyeternal @emilyhartmannmd

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