Plastic Surgeon Dr. Stephen Weber Gives Advice to Young Doctors: “Giving Back Is the Right Thing to Do”
Jager Weatherby on 16 Sep 2014 at 5:30pm
Dr. Stephen Weber and team member with Tanzania National nurse
Making a living as a plastic surgeon isn’t all about redoing the noses of Hollywood’s famous faces. For many of these surgeons, the role comes with a sense of responsibility to give back to those in need, from families abroad who lack access to medical care to teenager cancer survivors who have lost their hair.
Facial plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen Weber is one of these doctors. When he’s not busy performing facial rejuvenation surgeries in his Denver-based office, he’s giving his time to humanitarian trips in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. He participates in the Face to Face International program, donating his services to individuals who faces were damaged at birth, by violence, or disease. Most recently, the double board-certified surgeon removed a massive keloid from the neck of a man in Tanzania who had struggled with the scar for nearly 20 years.
RealSelf caught up with Dr. Weber to learn more about his philanthropic efforts, as well as hear the advice he’d give to young doctors looking to make their mark on the world of plastic surgery.
MORE: African Man Receives Free Keloid Surgery After Connecting With Doctor Through RealSelf
RealSelf: What inspired you to start going on these medical trips? Why did you choose that particular area?
Dr. Weber: I was initially inspired to pursue humanitarian work after the birth of my first child. Experiencing the management and treatment of his developmental medical issues made me realize how exceptional our medical system is in the US. It also motivated me to learn more about areas of the world where the medical system was lacking. Given my extensive experience in facial reconstruction, I sought out opportunities to put those skills to good use in areas of the world where cleft lip, palate deformities, and facial trauma are most prevalent. I've traveled and worked extensively in Latin America and eastern Africa, because those are areas where cleft deformities and facial burns are very common. I'm considering a humanitarian trip to Nepal in 2015 for similar reasons.
Tanzanian cleft patient pre-surgery; Cleft patient and mother one day after operation
RealSelf: Who was your most memorable patient?
Dr. Weber: My most memorable patient was a teenager with a cleft lip deformity in Peru. In America, cleft lips are typically repaired as early as 10 weeks of age. This young man was 16 years old and had never undergone this critical reconstructive procedure. As a result, he was shunned by many of his peers. He had never had a girlfriend and had very limited social opportunities. We repaired his lip during a 90-minute surgery and he recovered uneventfully. Upon our annual return to the area several years later, this young man came to the clinic to show off not only his natural-looking lip but also his pregnant wife. It’s very gratifying to create a natural-looking lip, but it’s truly exciting to see the larger social implications of repairing a person's deformity.
RealSelf: What do we take for granted in America that you wish others could see through your eyes?
Dr. Weber: We entirely take for granted the abundance of opportunities and things that we have in the West. There is nothing more shocking than spending weeks in a developing country and seeing so many smiling, happy people who really have very little, then returning home to a place where we have an excess of everything but very little appreciation for our opportunities. We have levels of comfort, safety, security, opportunity, and consumption that are unprecedented but I think very few of us (and even fewer of our children) have the opportunity to experience another way of life. My first humanitarian mission triggered a dramatic change in my perspective on the way that we live and it was honestly disorienting to return home to our way of living.
MORE: Team of Doctors Visit Vietnam For Medical Mission
RealSelf: What was something that surprised you or was completely unexpected?
Dr. Weber: I’ve been constantly surprised by the deep level of gratitude that people display in the countries that I’ve had the opportunity to visit. I met a mother who walked for days to arrive at a clinic with a visiting medical team only to be told that we didn't have the type of surgeon needed to fix her child's leg. Rather than become upset, the mother thanked us for the work that we were doing for other children and adults and asked when she might make the trek again to see someone who would be able to help her daughter. We don't often see that level of gratitude in the US.
RealSelf: What's the message you would give to young doctors about making time for this kind of work?
Dr. Weber: There is an abundance of need and opportunity to help. Giving back locally and abroad is the right thing to do. Take the first step toward giving back today.
Dr. Weber teaching Tanzanian surgeons in the operating room
RealSelf: How can America help? Where do you see the biggest need and how can average people make a big impact?
Dr. Weber: We can help most by training local doctors and nurses to do the work that visiting teams perform. At the present time, there is a huge volume of surgical procedures that need to be performed, but at the same time we need to take the opportunity to train local surgeons to continue this work. We need to work with those providers to transfer the skills to continue this work on a sustainable, local basis. These patients need and deserve local doctors that can provide the same level of care on a daily, year-round basis.
About Dr. Stephen Weber
Dr. Weber recognized his aptitude for facial aesthetics as a medical student at Boston University School of Medicine. His passion for facial plastic and reconstructive surgery was further strengthened during a five year head and neck surgery residency at Oregon Health & Science University. Dr. Weber’s training culminated with a fellowship in facial plastic surgery at the University of Michigan. He is recognized as a Diplomat of the American Board of Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, American Board of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery and the American College of Surgeons.