Medical Specialties: Reconstructive Surgery

by Manu Gandham

Reconstructive surgery, with its endless range of application and demanding level of technical proficiency, attracts self-critical and adaptive surgeons who are constantly in the pursuit of perfection and never accept their successes without first examining their failures.

Unlike other surgical fields where surgeons might perform identical surgeries countless times, every reconstructive surgery presents a unique challenge that can rarely be repaired perfectly. From facial deformities to joint abnormalities and traumatic injury sites, no two procedures are same, making reconstructive surgery very difficult to master. Because of this, the most important quality in an aspiring reconstructive surgeon is his or her ability to respond to failure.

Dr. Jeffrey Hammoudeh, MD, a pediatric plastic and craniofacial surgeon at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said he likes the word failure. He cited his ability to learn from his failures and his questioning of how he could have done better after every surgery as the most important personal qualities which have helped him attain the level of mastery he exhibits today.

“No matter how well you complete an operation,” he said, “you can just accept your level of performance, or push yourself to do better.”

While a reconstructive surgeon might spend a typical workday performing skin grafts to heal scarred or burned skin or donating time to perform pro-bono cleft-palate corrections for underprivileged children, every operation presents with a unique set of circumstances that requires the surgeon to be strategically adaptive. Hammoudeh said that even his mentors, reconstructive surgery veterans, still push themselves to achieve the elusive goal of a perfect surgical reconstruction.

For all their hard work and dedication, reconstructive surgeons have the opportunity to experience firsthand the transformative power of their work. Hammoudeh said he first became interested in pediatric reconstructive surgery after realizing that in just one operation, he could dramatically improve the quality of a child’s life. For example, just one procedure to repair a child’s cleft-lip or cleft palate can allow the child to eat, drink and speak normally, granting them a life free from challenging developmental complications.

However, the transformative power of reconstructive surgery goes beyond restoring function to damaged or disfigured body parts.

“Even something as simple as removing a mole on the forehead of a child,” Hammoudeh said, “can significantly improve the child’s psychological health, when you understand that the child is going to go to school and may be made fun of or bullied.”

Reconstructive surgery offers aspiring surgeons the chance to transform the lives of their patients if they are willing to embark on a rigorous path of continual self-improvement and self-critical learning. For those who are inspired to continuously raise their standards for success, repairing children’s smiles may just be the first of many rewards.

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