Why you should care

Because when your looks are on the line, you want a relaxed physician.

In this original weeklong series, The Plastics: The Changing Face of Cosmetic Surgery, join OZY for a guided tour at the frontiers of enhancement, from aesthetics to pain relief to power performance.

The video begins with Dr. Suzanne Kilmer entering her office in Sacramento, California, a cheeky grin on her face. She takes a step to the left, a step to the right and signs her check-in pad with an exaggerated flourish. Then the beat of the soundtrack kicks in, a comedic reworking of the American Authors’ “Best Day of My Life.Only in Kilmer’s case, it’s “Best Face of My Life.”

“My face was brown and sagging down/ my jowls so low they hit the ground/ Woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ooooooh/ Woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ooooooh/ I stretch my hands up to the sky/ wondering what my money’ll buy/ Woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ooooooh/ Woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ooooooh.”

There are four minutes of this, and a lot more dancing down the halls with staffers, bopping into examining rooms to prep patients, waving Botox syringes and zapping liver spots as the lyrics make a pitch for Kilmer’s nonsurgical practice. “I’m tired of this wrinkled face/ Gotta see the laser ace.”

Kilmer’s video was part of her entry for the Iron Surgeon competition, a little-known event held during the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery’s annual meeting. Surgeons are judged on their aesthetic work — presentations of the best cosmetic facial rejuvenations of preassigned cases — and their videos, which include parodies of films (Mohs Hunger Games) and TV shows (Reconstructive Jeopardy!) as well as music. The first is serious business; as for the second, playfulness tends to receive high marks.

We’re taught to be superhero perfectionists and that sets us up for burnout — and aesthetic surgeons have to deal with unrealistic patient expectations.

Dike Drummond, CEO of The Happy MD

This might sound like a fun excuse to blow off steam, but there’s more to the competition than encouraging physicians to channel their inner Justin Bieber. The event can be seen as a remedy to the growth of surgeon burnout, something that’s increased significantly over the past decade. A 2016 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that only one-third of cosmetic surgeons claim to have job satisfaction — the lowest among 16 specialties. By comparison, pediatric surgeons reported 86 to 96 percent work satisfaction.

Burnout is never good in any field, but it’s especially troubling in the medical world, where a mistake can have permanent health consequences. In response, the industry is coming up with some new solutions. In December, the American Society of Plastic Surgery is targeting burnout by hosting its inaugural wellness retreat — Project Well Recharge. Activities include yoga, meditation, coloring books and journaling. It doesn’t end there; other events that add playfulness back into work include Shark Tank–style competitions at conferences, where surgeons pitch products or startups that impress them, and the Women Plastic Surgeons Enrichment Retreat, which addresses burnout in female surgeons.

It isn’t feel-good overkill — it addresses real-life problems. “Doctors commit suicide at twice the rate of the normal population,” says Dike Drummond, CEO of The Happy MD, which specializes in burnout prevention and recovery in the medical community. “The process one has to go through to become a doctor teaches us to be workaholics,” he continues. “We’re taught to be superhero perfectionists, and that sets us up for burnout — and aesthetic surgeons have to deal with unrealistic patient expectations.” Drummond, a former family doctor, started his company in 2011 after his own burnout, hoping to pass on some of the strategies he’d so painfully learned. To date, thousands have participated in his company’s one-on-one coaching sessions and annual four-day retreats, Heart of the Healer, now in its fifth year.

The symptoms of burnout aren’t always easy to recognize, which adds to the problem. Doctors might think they’re just feeling blue when, in fact, their condition is far more serious. The tell-tale signs can differ slightly by gender as well — Drummond says men cycle through exhaustion and then cynicism, but women get an extra layer of doubt and start second-guessing their work. The end result: 70 percent of medical errors can be blamed on burnout, according to a research report from the Mayo Clinic. Hence headlining sessions at plastic surgery conferences that include “Burnout Proof Workshop” at the American Council of Academic Plastic Surgeons confab and “I Thought It Was Just Me: Exploring the Impact of and Solutions to Physician Burnout” at the upcoming spring 2018 meeting of the New Jersey Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Not all cosmetic practitioners find their work stressful. In San Francisco, Dr. Robert Colvin burned out after working in emergency rooms for more than 10 years, wrangling with insurance companies and dealing with life-and-death situations. As a full-time cosmetic doctor at SKIN Medical Spa, he finds he’s happier with his work-life balance. Becoming a triathlete helps cosmetic surgeon Dr. Seth Matarasso stay burnout-free. “This is not cookbook medicine,” he says, explaining that because it involves “discretionary dollars,” cosmetic work can become a pressure cooker of anticipation and expectation. Today medals for completing the San Francisco marathon and the NYC triathlon hang in his office. You have to have balance,” he says. He recognizes that competitions like the Iron Surgeon can play a role as a surgeon relaxation technique, but he personally finds them unrealistic — and he doesn’t want to compete with his peers. He attends every year and says it’s a lot of fun, but cautions that one of his friends entered and lost — and didn’t take it well.

On the flip side, going through burnout isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. Drummond says it might be painful but, if managed correctly, it also can be a starting point for changing your life for the better.

To return to the lyrics in Kilmer’s “Best Face of My Life” parody, “This is going to be better than the kni-i-ife/ The kni-i-i-i-i-i-i-ife.”

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