PLASTIC SURGERY PLAYS A MAJOR ROLE IN HEALTHCARE
A small percentage of Cosmetic Surgery falls within the larger realm of Plastic Surgery, but society and the media often focus primarily on that small percentage when considering the overall and expansive work of a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon.
A small girl’s hand is accidentally burned while roasting marshmallows with her family; a family dog is spooked during a thunderstorm and bites his master’s cheek; A man’s foot is disfigured in a car crash – All of these instances will require plastic surgery to repair, but you won’t read about them in fashion magazines or question whether the procedures were “elective.” The surgeon who will perform the above reconstructions will be a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon and his or her skill will be paramount in the success of each example’s recovery, but again, you won’t see these results on the cover of the Enquirer.
Plastic surgery is defined as a surgical specialty dedicated to reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease. Plastic surgery is intended to correct dysfunctional areas of the body and is reconstructive in nature. While many plastic surgeons choose to complete additional training and perform cosmetic surgery as well, the basis of their surgical training remains reconstructive plastic surgery.
Last February, during a debate between Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) about the future of health care in the United States, Plastic Surgeons such as myself felt that Sen. Sanders mischaracterized the specialty, suggesting the care we provide is not as needed as that of primary care physicians.
I am excited we are having this much-needed healthcare debate in our country and agree with Senator Sanders that we do “have a major crisis in primary care.” However, I disagree with his assertion that one of the reasons for this shortage is “you go to medical school, you can come out hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And then you’re going to become a plastic surgeon, not doing primary care in an urban area or rural America.”
Debra J. Johnson, MD FACS, President of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons did an excellent job pointing out the misconception in Senator Sanders’ statement. As a surgeon myself, who has participated in almost 40 mission trips around the world to provide free surgical care to people in need, I feel her sentiment is worth repeating.
“You may be stereotyping plastic surgeons as cosmetic “nip/tuck” doctors who cater to the wealthy. While some of my members do have practices that are cosmetic and lucrative, the vast majority of plastic surgeons are providing both aesthetic and reconstructive services in our communities.
We are the doctors called when a dog bites your child, when your brother-in-law accidently sticks his hand in the lawnmower, when your wife gets breast cancer and wants to consider her reconstructive options. We have been at the forefront of helping our wounded warriors reintegrate into society, by making their damaged limbs more functional, their faces more recognizable, their scars of war less noticeable.
Plastic surgeons have been and will continue to be incredible innovators in medicine, beginning with kidney transplantation (first performed by Nobel Laureate Plastic Surgeon Joseph Murray) and now moving into face and hand transplantation. Within our regenerative medicine laboratories, we are trying to grow whole body parts from stem cells, such that children born without an ear can be reconstructed more easily and effectively. We are working to solve the riddle of aging, to try and keep our human bodies healthy and viable as long as possible.” For the full text of Dr. Johnson’s response, click here.
I graduated from the University of Santo Tomas Medical School in 1995, finished general surgery residency at Temple University in 2006, my hand surgery fellowship at UMass in 2007, and my plastic surgery fellowship at UMass in 2010.
Speaking for myself, I did have extensive tuition bills, but I became a Plastic Surgeon because it spoke to me from a very young age, it was my calling – I watched my father, a retired Plastic Surgeon donate thousands of hours of his time performing reconstructive surgeries for the treatment of cleft lips and palates, severe burn scar deformities, and other acquired or congenital defects and I knew as early as thirteen that I wanted to help people the way he did.
Through my continued work with Surgicorp International, I have performed life altering procedures on mission trips to Africa, South America and the Philippines. I have operated on young and old; a 3-month-old born with extra digits on her feet to a 76-year-old who suffered lifelong complications from a cleft lip. My chosen profession allows me to pay my services forward and the experiences I’ve had in working with people in need has enhanced my skill as a medical professional in more ways than I can credit.
Work with my cosmetic patients is equally rewarding because I am able to provide them with a solution to a problem. Perhaps it is breast reconstruction for a person who has undergone extreme weight loss, or body contouring for a young mother who wants to feel comfortable in a bathing suit on the beach with her children. Although these are elective procedures, the results enhance the quality of a person’s life and that is my aim. The procedures for both examples above may have eliminated depression, the need for medication, and increased a commitment to exercise and eat healthy – contributing to overall health benefits.
I applaud the active members of Congress such as Senator Sanders who are seriously looking to help increase America’s access to healthcare. Dr. Johnson pointed out “burdensome regulation, overpricing by Pharma, one-time use waste in our hospitals, inappropriate overutilization of testing and imaging, as well as the for-profit health insurance system are all areas that should be evaluated for improved cost-effectiveness,” and I agree. However, as these issues hopefully get addressed, I will continue to provide creative and innovative care to my patients simply because I care deeply for them and feel they deserve the best I can give.
– Dr. Richard Montilla, MD. Board Certified in Plastic and Reconstructive and Hand surgery and specializes in Complex Wound Surgery and Abdominal Wall Reconstruction.