Many years ago, a mentor taught me a surgeon spends an entire residency learning how to operate. Then the surgeon spends the rest of one’s career learning how NOT to operate.

This includes when not to operate.

A plastic surgeon called me recently, and described a recent patient visit. The woman, in her mid-40’s, confessed her husband just left her. She was starting over. She wanted to look better as she re-entered the dating scene – a scene she abandoned many years earlier.

The surgeon asked her what she had in mind.

Most of his patients have detailed instructions in mind when they meet. They bring pictures. They have expectations. They may be unrealistic expectations, but, in their brain, there’s some roadmap.

In the surgeon’s opinion, the patient already looked quite good. And there was nothing in particular that seemed to be bothering her. The only thing driving her was the motivation to “tune up” for the next phase of her life.

The surgeon made a good call. He said it sounded as if she was early in the journey. If she believed that plastic surgery made sense, she should first become educated on the topic. He referred her to reputable web sites, and told her how to distinguish between hype and reality. He said she could follow up down the road.

Working with pre-educated patients makes the doctor-patient relationship more of a collaboration.

The easier, and likely more near-term lucrative path, would have been for the surgeon to subconsciously “impose” his beliefs on the patient. He could have suggested any number of procedures. Who among us wouldn’t benefit from some tuning up?

But, the patient’s angst was fueled by her recent break-up. She likely needed more time to heal. If plastic surgery was in the cards, she needed to better understand the risks, benefits, and options.

There’s a time and a place for everything. This time, the plastic surgeon functioned as a “psychiatrist” by demonstrating restraint and compassion. It was a good call.

What do you think?

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