It’s easy to feel cynical about physicians who choose plastic surgery as their area of specialization. After all, most earn their living primarily or completely by operating on patients who go under the knife for aesthetic reasons (that is, for cosmetic surgery as opposed to reconstructive surgery). To many laypeople, it feels a bit superficial that a highly-trained doctor would choose to focus solely on looks. And isn’t it true that entering the field of plastic surgery is also great way to ensure a steady income, minimize trouble with insurance companies and encounter few life-threatening situations? Aren't these surgeons avoiding a more "noble" career for the sake of an easier lifestyle?
All those motivations are probably in play to some extent for many plastic surgeons. But it’s also true that many have a strong charitable streak. They feel compelled to give back—devoting hundreds or even thousands of hours to charity plastic surgery through various non-profit organizations and on their own. And when they do, everyone wins.
It’s not unusual for a plastic surgeon to perform charity plastic surgery abroad for a year following their initial training, for instance. Fellowships from organizations like Interplast (www.interplast.org) support the doctors while they fly to Asia, Latin America, Africa and other areas to correct congenital deformities for people with no access to this kind of medical care.
Some plastic surgeons are so gratified by the work that they continue to devote time annually to missions like these. One Northern California physician noted that there’s nothing like the feeling of giving someone in poverty the chance to have a normal life—to get married, have children, and do simple things that might be denied them otherwise.
Operation Smile (www.operationsmile.org) is a well known non-profit that provides cleft lip and cleft palate repair for children all over the world. Teams of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, other medical staff and volunteers travel to countries as diverse as Egypt, Uzbekistan and Colombia to operate on hundreds of children during a two-week period.