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  • Ryan Kunkel

My Journey to Plastic Surgery

Early on in medical school, I became determined to be an orthopedic surgeon. I wanted a job that was hands on and directly impacted people's quality of life. Obviously, medicine offers a lot of options that fit this criteria, but orthopedics was very hands on and very directly impacted quality of life. Well I ended up matriculating into a general surgery program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A few months into my residency, I had the opportunity (and honor) of operating with Dr. Christopher Demas. He was a wizard in the operating room. One of our first cases together was a below the knee amputation. Dr. Demas was able to dissect out the posterior tibial artery and keep the heel pad attached to the end. We took the heel (attached to the leash of the artery) and resurface the amputated leg. Its difficult to explain without seeing, but it was magic (remember he is a wizard).

Well, after that rotation, which also included fixing facial fractures, moving bones from one leg to the other, reconstructing breasts after mastectomies, and closing huge wounds on patients' faces, my world had changed.


The things that plastic surgeons are able to do are seriously marvelous and spell bounding. This was a field that was completely foreign to me, even in medical school. I had the impression that plastic surgery was mostly cosmetic surgery. In reality it is hand surgery, microsurgery (sewing together 2mm diameter vessels under a microscope), craniofacial surgery (my specialty), reconstructive surgery for trauma and cancer, transgender surgery, and of course aesthetic surgery.


Here was a specialty that seeks to restore form a function to patients who are suffering from disfigurement. Even the aesthetic field seeks to help people feel their best and feel confident and comfortable in their own skin or to mitigate effects of aging to help them live their best lives. This was a field where a surgeon could choose their own adventure.


I chose to do plastic surgery for the reasons above. The direct impact on patients' lives as well as the technical and hands on aspect. If a scalpel is a paintbrush, plastic surgery teaches you how to use that paintbrush in the most creative ways. You also get to add an artistic element to your craft. If you practice and continually learn, you can also become a wizard.

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