As part of our get to know your surgeon series of blog posts, PSF sat down for a Q&A with Melbourne Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Dr Sophie Ricketts.
Why did you become a plastic surgeon?
Inspiration to become a plastic surgeon came to me in high school when I imagined that to be able to ‘fix peoples faces’ after injury and trauma would be so hugely satisfying. I have since discovered that Plastic Surgery gives me the opportunity to work with patients unfortunate enough to suffer traumatic injury as well as those needing parts of their body reconstructed after major cancer resections. I love that this requires a skillfulness to be able to ‘rebuild’ what is normal again, but within the limits of what the human body has to offer. It is incredibly gratifying and yet challenging to be able to offer this to patients.
Plastic surgery also provides the opportunity to exercise aesthetic judgement as well as creativity. Whether a patient is needing reconstructive or cosmetic plastic surgery, the principles of balance and beauty are equally important. The challenge for me as a plastic surgeon is to imagine the desired outcome for a patient and feel confident in achieving it for them.
What are your primary plastic surgery interests and why?
My primary interest is in the face. Further overseas training after completing Plastic Surgery allowed me to develop reconstructive skills in Craniofacial surgery. Working with patients suffering disfigurement from facial bone fractures, as well as those with nose and lip deformity due to cleft lip and palate gave me the basis on which to build this interest. By understanding the structure of the face and nose and its importance in setting the framework for what lies on the surface I can now better achieve the desired outcome for cosmetic patients too.
What do you love most about your job as a plastic surgeon?
Being a plastic surgeon offers an enormous variety of experience. I am lucky enough to have two enormously satisfying and challenging public appointments at city teaching hospitals. The Alfred hospital is where I operate on patients with facial fractures frequently the result of road trauma and St Vincent’s is where I use microsurgery to help rebuild women’s breasts after cancer and portions of patient’s faces after major cancer resections of the jaw, oral cavity or sinuses.
This is contrasted by my private practice at ARC Plastic Surgery where I see patients who have different needs. They want a ‘better self’ to help them have the confidence and self esteem necessary to be feel comfortable in themselves. What job offers such challenges, rewards, personal interactions and creativity!?
What is the hardest part about being a plastic surgeon?
Realising what is possible. Unfortunately we are not yet at the stage of off-the-shelf biological parts. As plastic surgeons we need to recognise the limitations of what is achievable. We can be in pursuit of perfection, there is no fault in that! However, sometimes it is difficult to accept something short of this.
How would your friends describe you?
I think that they would acknowledge that I have always been very motivated to achieve what I have in my career but at the same time not losing a sense of compassion and thoughtfulness for others. Growing up in rural Tasmania has given me a groundedness that helps me to understand people from whatever their background.
What do you do for fun?
I am a keen road cyclist and I am a member of The Jaggad Collective, a sponsored group of seven women who love to cycle and race together and promote the sport. I am also a member of the St Kilda Cycling Club that I joined because of its support of women of all abilities in the sport.
I travel in the relentless search for good cycling, downhill ski locations and good food!
What is your style?
I believe that there is merit in looking and being your best. Being active and healthy helps anyone have the confidence of mind and strength of body to achieve their goals. Aesthetics are an inherent part of plastic surgery, and as a plastic surgeon I am always aware of visual appeal.
What advice do you have when deciding on a surgeon?
You must feel comfortable in their ability to achieve your goals, but equally with who they are. Choose a surgeon who can take the time to understand and listen to your concerns and explain how to best address them in a way that you can comprehend.
Make sure you see a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon who is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. It is the best way to know that they are properly trained with the operative skill to care for you.
What are some of your career highlights?
I trained in Melbourne, which (with a certain amount of bias) I believe offers a superior training in all aspects of plastic surgery. During my time at the Royal Children’s Hospital I was part of the team caring for Trishna and Krishna the conjoined twins who were separated in 2009. There was a huge amount of planning and preparation in readiness for the day when they were finally separated with the neurosurgical team working though the night to separate their brains and our team then being able to reconstruct their skull and scalp. They both survived and it was a testament to the dedication and the teamwork of those involved and it was a privilege to be a part of.
In 2011 St Vincent’s Hospital was the first hospital in Australia to perform a hand transplant from a deceased donor to a recipient who had lost both hands due to infection. This again required enormous planning and teamwork to carry out a successful transplant but of course significant satisfaction in seeing the outcome.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about having plastic surgery?
The internet has a wealth of great information for patients considering plastic surgery. However sometimes it can be overwhelming and quite frankly a little scary. I would always encourage someone to have a proper consultation with a real surgeon who can talk with you, examine you, and discuss your specific needs and options.
Have you ever had to turn patients away due to unrealistic expectations?
It is rare to turn patients away for this reason. Your surgeon should be able to help you to understand why your expectations are unrealistic and explain why. With careful education around the limitations and likely outcomes, most patients see what can reasonably be achieved and are accepting of this.
What procedures are becoming more popular and what are decreasing?
Many patients that present for facial plastic surgery and rhinoplasty are looking for changes that are not obvious to anyone but perhaps their closest friends and family. They are doing it for their own sense of self confidence or esteem. If no one but themselves notices the change then they are okay with that. Patients want the ‘refreshed’ look not the ‘operated’ look.
What is your understanding of beauty and how does this relate to your practice?
I believe that beauty comes from as much an inner happiness as an outward appearance. An example of this is a cleft lip and palate patient whom I operated on during my time in Canada. She needed a rhinoplasty due to her cleft deformity. After her surgery she was so happy with the improvement that despite her appearance still carrying some of the differences of a cleft, she radiated such beauty.
Patients wanting changes to their face or body for cosmetic reasons can similarly be transformed with this ‘inner’ sense of happiness. With a feeling of joy in ones own body comes an outward expression of beauty through happiness.
To achieve this for patients is the greatest success.
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PSF would like to thank Dr. Sophe Ricketts for her input into this blog post.