Despite the great leaps forward in plastic surgery after World War I, the profession was still rather ill-defined in the American medical establishment in the 1920s.
Physicians specializing in this area had no formal means to share their new knowledge and innovations with like-minded physicians across the country. What was needed was a professional organization.
Two Founding Fathers
Like most great American institutions, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) -- known until 1999 as the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (ASPRS) -- developed mainly through the sweat and toil of immigrants. In this case, it was two surgeons from Europe who came to the United States after World War I, Jacques Maliniac and Gustave Aufricht.
The two doctors were as unalike as any two men could be, except for their dedication to their craft. Despite his French-sounding name, Dr. Maliniac was born in 1889 in Warsaw, Poland. After studying with the leading plastic surgeons on the continent before the war, he was called into the Russian Army at the outbreak of hostilities. A small, intense man, Dr. Maliniac, who was Jewish, came to the United States in 1923 and decided to stay as anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe in the 1920s. Settling in New York City in 1925, he opened a thriving private practice, and convinced the administrators of the City Hospital system to establish the first division of plastic surgery at a public hospital.
Dr. Aufricht, born in 1894, was a native of Budapest, Hungary. Like Dr. Maliniac, he treated wounded soldiers during the war, studied with the leading practitioners in Europe and arrived in New York in 1923. And like Dr. Maliniac, he was Jewish and decided to stay here when things became inhospitable in the Old World. However, the similarities ended there.
Where Dr. Maliniac was considered bombastic and dictatorial with his students and residents, Dr. Aufricht, who went by the nickname "Gusti," was genial and outgoing, but no less a commanding figure, loved and revered by his charges.
ASPS is Born
The seeds of ASPS could be found in the establishment of another plastic surgery organization, the American Association of Oral Surgeons in 1921, which only accepted physicians with both medical and dental degrees and severely limited the number of members. Despite their reputations, Drs. Maliniac and Aufricht were not invited to join.
This rebuff was answered by informal meetings of Dr. Aufricht and his colleagues, including Clarence Straatsma and Lyon Peer, who plotted the formation of their own organization. Meanwhile, the decisive Dr. Maliniac acted while his colleagues talked. Dr. Maliniac met with physicians in many fields touched by plastic surgery, including Dr. Straatsma in October 1931 and invited them to join him in founding a new organization. With 10 charter members, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons was launched, with Dr. Aufricht and others joining soon after.
Initial ASPS meetings were held in New York, usually in Dr. Maliniac's office, and consisted of the presentation of a handful of scientific papers, often by the founder himself. An early concern of plastic surgeons was the fact that the specialty, while growing rapidly, was not recognized by the American Board of Surgeons, the medical certifying organization of the time. ASPS members were board-certified in other related specialties, such as otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat - ENT - specialists). A group of ASPS members, led by Dr. Blair of St. Louis, convinced the American Board of Surgery to establish an American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) in the late 1930s. The board conducted an exam for physicians to qualify as plastic surgeons. In 1941, the ABPS came under the jurisdiction of the American Board of Medical Specialties.