By Matthew M. Hazlehurst
What makes a doctor a good plastic surgeon?
Based on my experience so far, to be a good plastic surgeon you must have an attention to detail. You have to be flexible. You have to be interested in not necessarily having a textbook answer for everything you do, but rather relying on the time-honored, fundamental principles that guide your everyday decision-making. Each particular case is unique in terms of how the patient presents and how you are asked to manage the case. I believe if you have those characteristics you are set up for success as a plastic surgeon.
What advice would you give residents entering the field?
If you look at the field of plastic surgery now as compared to 10 years ago and even earlier, it has changed quite a bit. Residents entering the field need to be open to learning things that frankly were not part of fundamental teaching a few years ago. A perfect example of this is the area of vascularized composite allotransplantation (VCA), which clinically started in the late 1990s with hand transplantation and then exploded in 2005 with the world’s first face transplant. This is also a reason plastic surgery is so interesting, as it is a field that necessitates innovation, imagination and solutions to problems unthinkable just a few years ago. Residents should be very interested in treating all types of problems, from head to toe. As a plastic surgeon, even if you specialize, people will ask you to treat areas that encompass the entire human body in one way or another. I think that residents entering this field need to embrace it completely and not be intimidated by the wide scope of what they will train to master.
If you could change one thing in the scope of how your work is done, what would it be?
Today, regulatory and compliance pressures are significant. The reality is that, regardless of discussing the merits or lack thereof, these pressures take time away from being actively involved in patient care. It is a complicated reality that we have to try and work within. We have great technology available to us in the electronic medical record but often it is not integrated for the practical needs of physicians and care providers to really take advantage of. If we could automate more tasks using evidence-based algorithms, we could focus more on being as thoughtful about providing the best care for our patients, doing our best to contribute to the literature and being productive academically.
What motivates you?
Honestly, it is the pursuit of excellence. Everything I try to do for my patients is focused on providing them with the best possible options and the best possible outcome. It is incredibly motivating to see the goals I set with the patient realized. It certainly makes me want to continue doing what I am doing. For me that is truly satisfying.
Who was your greatest influence entering the field?
I have known many people who have been influential and have been very fortunate to have a lot of mentors. Though it would be unfair of me to single them out individually, there is one person who stands out – Robert M. Goldwyn, M.D., was a former mentor of mine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He was (and still is) a legend in his own right in the field of plastic surgery. He truly helped me understand what is involved in pursuing a career in plastic surgery and how I could be the best I could be. If I really had to give one name, I would put his name at the top.
How has your experience at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston been?
Since I came back to the Boston Shriners Hospital in October of 2015 as a member of the medical staff and the chief of plastic surgery it has been fantastic. The Shriners Hospitals for Children mission, as well as the unique environment we work in every day, are extremely rewarding. The philanthropic roots of the hospital system and the unique way world-class care is provided to children regardless of a family’s ability to pay is unmatched in my opinion. It is exciting to not only see what we have been doing well, but to recognize the potential and opportunities that we have to bring an even higher level of care and excellence in outcomes for our patients.