A Missionary of Medicine and a Metaphor for Leadership: The Surgeon-As-Civic-Leader

As the national debate about health insurance reform continues, amidst this conversation about public exchanges versus private exchanges and the economic merits of one plan over another, it is easy to lose focus on the individuals at the center of this discussion – the doctors and patients – who deserve our respect and a hearing. Nowhere is that point more relevant, and nowhere is one particular field of medicine more deserving of our attention, than within the realm of plastic surgery.

For this issue is a personal passion of mine because its importance too often elicits insufficient acclaim, and the duty to correct this situation – unlike nearly every other industry – rests with us, the people who misconstrue the purpose and necessity of this endeavor. Surgeons should be effective communicators, no doubt. But, in reviewing this matter from a marketing perspective, and with pride on behalf of the work these experts do, I can state – without any reservations – that sometimes the consumer (or the patient) should do some extra research of their own, too.

To that end, one surgeon who embodies these principles – as a healer and as a communicator – is Dr. Gilbert Lee, a triple-board certified plastic surgeon, a “Top Doc” in his specialty by the San Diego Medical Society and a member of the community – as a citizen and civic activist – who exemplifies the power of leadership. I consider him a “Missionary of Medicine,” which is the title of this column, because he transcends our collective misinterpretation of plastic surgery and ministers to patients with the compassion every physician should offer and the conscience any business should possess.

In practical terms, my review of Dr. Lee's credentials – along with a featured Q&A he includes on his website, which addresses some of the frequently referenced issues involving plastic surgery – reminds me of a simple fact: Forgo simple stereotypes, as if plastic surgery is some sort of medical form of decadence (which insurance should not cover) or lifestyle brand of medicine. In other words, do the research – invest the time to be an educated voice in the dialogue about health care and life-changing procedures, which have an impact beyond our vocabulary or command of the language.

Forget Convenient Fictions in Favor of Undeniable Facts: Educating Yourself About Health Care

I return, again, to this emphasis on facts. More specifically, I distinguish between perception and reality because the latter shows me that plastic surgery involves some of the most complex, technologically sophisticated and innovative disciplines of medicine. For example: Dr. Lee performs facial implants, augmented by the exclusive use of a three-dimensional (3D) modeling system, which shows patients the results before a single incision occurs or an operation proceeds. This service is the ultimate illustration of communications — by images, taken by six cameras from multiple angles, to create a virtual 3D reconstruction of a patient's face, body or chest.

Forget the cliché because, in this instance, a picture is worth considerably more than a thousand words. The universal theme for all business owners is that showing is telling: That technology, when applied properly and in the furtherance of an identifiable need, can communicate in ways mere words cannot suffice. But, and as a matter of qualification, remember that technology is an aid of expression or information, not the master of intelligence. The duty belongs to the leader – the assignment is one Dr. Lee fulfills – by providing context for the images.

A final comment about the power of education, as opposed to the allure of assumptions and false ideas: Plastic surgery is, at its core, reconstructive surgery — reversing the physical scars of a tragic accident or injury. Far from being an act of vanity, minimizing these scars – from skin cancer or other types of trauma – can restore a patient's self-esteem and give that person a second chance at life. Those advantages are too vital not to be part of the discourse governing health care.

In and Of the Community: Lead by Living

If, after reviewing and reading the essential facts about plastic surgery, there is one rule every executive can emulate – if there is a single concept every business owner can follow, in tribute to a professional like Dr. Lee – it is this: Be invested in your community, with concern for your fellow citizens and awareness of the spirit of your town or city.

Many executives abide by that principle, and even more should (as a matter of common courtesy), but I applaud surgeons like Dr. Lee, and his longstanding presence in San Diego, as proof that community is integral to an organization's success and credibility. Indeed, medicine is the ultimate component of a community. Think of the iconic local doctor, a pillar of wisdom in a wardrobe comprised of a white coat, a pressed shirt and a finely knit tie, the famed black bag at his side — imagine this leader, updated for the twenty-first century, in a major city like San Diego. You can call that person by his name: Dr. Gilbert Lee.


Professionals in every industry can do likewise, for the good of their respective businesses and the health of their individual communities. Lead by living, so you may flourish by helping others.

Joshua Otten is the co-founder of and a partner with SCREENPUSH.COM, a fully integrated, global digital marketing agency. 


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