Inspire By Dr Anh

A place where women can find useful information, advice, resources and stories to help you feel great, look your best and live life to your full potential!

I Look Like A Surgeon, And You Do Too!

What do I mean by that?

Simply that a surgeon doesn’t look any one specific way, and it’s time that we do away with stereotypes that tell us a surgeon (or any professional for that matter) should be a certain gender, race, age, height, weight, etc.

I was watching an episode of the Today Show the other day and they were talking about the Imposter Syndrome, which is the feeling that you don’t deserve your success, even if you have worked for it and earned it. This tied in perfectly with my thoughts about the #ilooklikeasurgeon campaign because it all leads to the idea that it’s time that we stop believing in stereotypes of what success is supposed to look like and start believing in ourselves.

Belief in these stereotypes is harmful because if you don’t happen to fit into that stereotype you believe in, it can be difficult to convince yourself that you have potential to be successful. It comes down to the toxic idea that in order to be successful, you have to be someone different than who you already are.

That’s why I choose to be so candid with you on my blog – I want to break through stereotypes and show the reality of success. That to be successful you don’t have to be superhuman or perfect or anyone other than yourself! I have dealt with self-doubt throughout my career because I’m human! But I’ve been able to become a surgeon and build a successful brand and business, all because I decided to believe in myself as I was, and not wait to first become a future, better version of myself.

The New Yorker cover image featuring four female surgeons that were released last month has sparked a social media trend of real-life female surgeons around the world using the #ilooklikeasurgeon hashtag to share images of themselves and highlight the diversity of people in this wonderful profession.  I, of course, got in on the fun and shared a photo of our female surgical team in the operating room, but I also wanted to share some of the thoughts this movement has brought up for me.

The #ilooklikeasurgeon campaign, which was actually inspired by my good friend and colleague Dr Nikki Stamp, has affirmed for me the importance of being a role model and setting an example for others.  We can change lives if we can help people through moments of self-doubt when they feel that they don’t have what it takes to achieve their goals. And the best way to do that is to lead by example – to share how I’ve gotten through those moments myself, and that the times I’ve made the decision to not let self-doubt control me have come to define who I am today.

My interest in plastic surgery came about when I did a rotation as a resident at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne Plastic Surgery Department and was so inspired by plastic surgeons doing work that seemed unimaginable to me – correcting craniofacial abnormalities like facial clefts, reconstructing congenital hand deformities, operating on burn victims, and removing tissue from one part of the body to use it to reconstruct an area lost due to trauma, cancer or simply being born without. I was in awe every day of the variety and complexity of the work and thought that it would be an amazing career.

Although I had loved and considered pursuing many other surgical specialities, from that time my heart was set on plastic surgery. However, there was a little voice inside me telling me that I wasn’t good enough to ever even make it into the program. I had no experience, no PhD research was too young, and had no supporters helping me to get into the program. Despite the fact that I was academically minded, creative, had the passion and ability to learn and work hard, had great communication skills and a strong vision of making a valuable contribution if, given the opportunity, I didn’t believe in my ability to succeed.

When the opportunity arose to apply for a position in the plastic surgery training program, I said, “Nah, I’m not ready yet.” Thankfully, I had someone there who believed in me and inspired me to push through my self-doubt. My father encouraged me to apply: “What are you afraid of? What have you got to lose? You want to do plastic surgery, so you have to take the first step and apply. If you don’t get accepted it will be a great experience for next time.”

With very low expectations for the outcome, I applied. And to my surprise, I was accepted! At the time I was the youngest plastic surgical trainee ever in Western Australia! If I hadn’t decided to take a chance and try applying, my story would be very different.

Of course, the hard part was only just starting. Training as a plastic surgeon was rigorous and often I felt like I wasn’t good enough, even when I was giving my everything. It was unbelievably stressful trying to keep up with 100-hour work weeks plus studying the 10,000 hours to sit the plastic surgery fellowship exams, while also being a wife and the mother of a young daughter. I felt guilty for not having enough time and attention for my husband and a little girl, and I often considered giving up on my dream of being a plastic surgeon. This wasn’t helped by the fact that for much of my training I felt that my seniors and consultants didn’t believe in me, and I had very few mentors who were supportive and encouraging.

Ultimately, making it through my plastic surgery training came down to my own resolve and determination. This was my dream and I wouldn’t be deterred.

Eventually, I passed my fellowship exams and qualified as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. From there my career went through several different stages, from an inspiring fellowship in aesthetic surgery in Melbourne to work in a practice in Perth while I built my brand. The whole while, I was driven by the vision of creating an oasis where men and women could come to have almost every nonsurgical and surgical aesthetic and wellness treatment to help them look and feel their best, so they could be the best versions of themselves. Nothing existed on the level of what I was envisioning, so I wondered whether it was a pipedream.

Even when I had done all of my research, found a location, had all of the plans drawn up and the clinic designed, I hesitated on taking the next step. I feared that I would sign a lease, buy equipment, and invest everything I had in this dream, only for it to fail. I doubted whether Perth would embrace this concept and I worried that I was exposing myself and my family to too much risk. I was trapped in this indecisive in-between limbo of crippling self-doubt.

And I may have stayed stuck there forever if not (again) for my father, who wisely told me, “You have a good idea, you have done all your research, you have what it takes to make this happen, but you don’t have courage. Why? All you need is courage and to believe in yourself.”

Lightbulb moment. He was right. I needed to take that leap of faith and believe in myself and pursue my dreams. And thank goodness I decided to ignore those destructive thoughts of failure because the decision to move forward with creating my business was one of the best I’ve ever made. That’s not to say that I don’t still have challenges, hard days, times I wish I want to give up, but I’ve shown myself what is possible when I persevere, and everything I have achieved is thanks to overcoming self-doubt.

If you doubt your ability to achieve your dreams, you’re not alone.  But you don’t need to let your doubt control you. If your goals seem big and scary and unachievable, they’re probably worth working towards. The fact that you doubt yourself isn’t a reason to give up. If anything, you should persevere in order to prove yourself wrong. I know I have.