Dr. Song, you are world-renowned successful plastic surgeon. What was your motivation to become a doctor and did you face any significant troubles or obstacles during your physician life?
Like many Korean/American children, growing up to be a doctor was a cultural goal, however, I was more interested in classical studies, political science and literature. Then in 11th grade science class, I was introduced to a Vascular Surgeon who gave a riveting presentation and what he showed was transformative for me. The vascular anatomy and the ability to bypass areas of occlusion with donor vein and suture blood vessels together left an indelible image in my mind. I always enjoyed building models and using my hands for intricate work and the ability to do intricate work while saving a person’s life or limb resonated with me. At that moment, I felt I had to pursue a career in medicine. I enrolled in the highly competitive 7 year undergraduate/ medical school program at UCR/UCLA and didn’t quite realize that out of 385 people accepted to start, only 24 would actually graduate from medical school. This highly competitive world was new to me and it was then that I questioned my desire to be a doctor. The long nights of studying and intense competition made it difficult for me to see the final goal of being a doctor. I also minored in classical studies and at one point contemplated changing my career path to pursue the classics. In the end, the pull of a career in medicine was strong and I graduated medical school from UCLA and matched into general surgery at The University of Chicago. This was a period of intense growth and focus as I trained in an era prior to the 80-hour workweek. Like many residents at that time, there were weeks where I worked in the hospital well over 120 hours and slept very little, but being in the operating room was a natural fit for me. These are hurdles everyone training to be a doctor has overcome and are not unique to me.
You’ve become the president of American Society of Plastic Surgeons as the first Asian American physician. Can you say a few words on being elected and share your vision and goal as a leader of group?
It is an incredible honor to be elected as president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. It is the largest society of plastic surgeons in the world and the clear voice of our specialty. I take pride in being the first Asian/American president, and feel a great sense of responsibility to represent our specialty as a Korean American. We have a strong agenda during this year to further educate the public on what it means to be a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon and a goal of engaging the public further via social media. I’m active on Twitter (@ DrDavidSong) and Instagram and feel that Social Media is an important and powerful tool when used correctly to educate and share with the public the importance of what we do as Plastic Surgeons. Cosmetic surgery is what the public mostly thinks of when discussing plastic surgery, and we are clearly the sine qua non of Cosmetic Surgery, but Plastic Surgery encompasses so much more. We take care of patients with congenital deformities, like cleft lip/palate, burn victims, hand trauma, reconstruction after cancer and much more. Plastic Surgery is in essence a field of innovative problem solving and remains one of the last specialties that solve problems all over the body. I hope to broadcast this message with clarity during my year as president.
All parts of clinical process should be difficult and careful but communicating with patient must be particularly difficult. What is the most important aspects when you communicate with patients and how do you manage your communication with them?
Accurate and empathic communication is the fundamental building block of a successful doctor patient relationship. For me I take great pride in engaging with my patients and treating each and every patient as if they are a member of my family. Once a doctor keeps this mindset, then communication becomes enriched and patient care is enhanced. Surgeons often are not perceived as the best communicators and for me I always wanted to change that perception as a resident. Given the ever increasing pressures and time constraints on doctors today, it is difficult to maintain this personal touch, but not impossible. All my patients have direct access to me as I give out my email and cell phone. This sense of knowing that they can always reach me is comforting to them and helps me to be pro-active with any possible issues that may arise. To me, this equates to the best personal care possible in this new era.
We’ve learned that your research interests focus on outcome improvement in lumpectomy and mastectomy reconstruction and you are involved in several clinical trials exploring advancements in these procedures. How do your collaborate with industry side and what’s your opinion on such collaboration?
Industry continues to be an important partner in innovation of medicines, devices and overall health care delivery. In this new era of transparency, it is critical that physicians maintain an ethical and open structure with industry relationships. With this transparency, innovation can and will still continue to be fruitful. Some examples of industry relationships come in the form of unrestricted educational grants that help to drive education, training and innovation yet keep an arms length from the actual data that the grants may be funding and thus help to keep the results unbiased.
The University of Chicago Medicine is well known teaching hospital. You’re an internationally recognized plastic surgeon and at the same time you also had the responsibility as Director of Residency Training Program. How do you view yourself as an educator and what are the core values that you teach your trainees?
Without a strong sense of responsibility for training the next generation of plastic surgeons, an academic career loses much of its impact and meaning and thus education and training residents is in and of itself a central mission of mine. My style of educating is one of mentorship. While we have a strong and rigorous curriculum, I value the importance of life mentorship. Our residents are an extremely intelligent and accomplished group of young doctors, so knowledge acquisition is an innate part of who they already are and thus I strive to guide and focus them on decision making both in and out of the operating room. Nurturing and developing their emotional intelligence is very important to me so I share with my residents the style of conversations I have with patients and colleagues when navigating through conflict resolution, shared goal setting and attaining a winwin with each challenging encounter. Leadership is changing and the effective leaders of tomorrow are those who not only possess knowledge and skill, but also have a keenly developed sense of self-awareness and high emotional intelligence. In my opinion, mentoring in this fashion will help equip them to be future leaders of our field.
We understand that the University of Chicago Medicine has been very active internationally, bringing in many international patients to Chicago and expanding its brand to other countries. What is your vision on the global healthcare?
The world today is much smaller than it was even 10 years ago. Patients have choices not only in their region or country, but internationally. We at the University of Chicago Medicine fully understand this and aim to be not only the best global medical center, but also one that is culturally respectful and sensitive to the nuances of all our patients’ needs and preferences. We have a robust and growing international healthcare department and receive and treat patients from all over the globe. With this platform, our outreach efforts continue to expand and as we leverage our technologies, we look forward to having international healthcare become an ever-increasing component of our Center for Care and Discovery.
WKMJ has readers from over 10 countries globally. Please share your final words with our readers.
It is a tremendous honor to be highlighted in WKMJ amongst my peers in Medicine. I hope to carry this honor throughout my presidency of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and beyond; further shedding light onto the great contributions doctors of Korean decent have made and continue to make in Medicine.
David H. Song, MD
Vice-Chairman, Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine President, American Society of Plastic Surgeons
David H. Song, MD, is an internationally recognized expert in plastic surgery with additional training in reconstructive microsurgery. He specializes in breast reconstruction and oncoplastic surgery. He is the Cynthia Chow Professor of Surgery, vice chairman of the Department of Surgery, chief of Plastic Surgery, and associate dean for Continuing Medical Education at the University of Chicago Medical Center. In 2005, Dr. David H. Song, MD Vice-Chairman, Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine President, American Society of Plastic Surgeons Song was name to Crain’s Chicago Business’ list of 40 high achieving executives younger than age 40. Song is well recognized for his extensive experience with perforator breast reconstruction procedures, including deep inferior epigastric perforator flap (DIEP), superior gluteal artery perforator flap (SGAP), superficial inferior epigastric artery flap (SIEA), thoracodorsal artery perforator flap (TAP) and the uses of acellular dermal matrix (AlloDerm) to enhance implant breast reconstruction and reconstruct abdominal wall defects. Additionally, he has pioneered and invented several techniques for the repair and reconstruction of chest wall defects. Dr. Song severs on the board of Medical Aid for Children of Latin America (MACLA), and past president of the Chicago Society of Plastic Surgeons. Currently, Dr. Song serves as president for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).