Faculty Focus: Q&A with Galen Perdikis, MD
In this installment of Faculty Focus, we present ASPS member Galen Perdikis, MD, Department of Plastic Surgery chair and professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. A native of South Africa, Dr. Perdikis earned his medical degree at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and he completed his general surgery residency – as well as a research Fellowship – at Creighton University Medical Center, Omaha. Neb., and a plastic surgery Fellowship at Vanderbilt.
A member of the ASPS Quality and Performance Measurement Committee and Performance Measure Workgroup – Reduction Mammaplasty, among several other current and past Society panels, Dr. Perdikis' areas of interest include post-mastectomy breast reconstruction, as well as communication and safety in plastic surgery generally. The son of a general surgeon and O.R. nurse, Dr. Perdikis also married into a surgery family – his father-in-law, too, is a surgeon. Dr. Perdikis says he's developed a deep understanding of the challenges faced by breast reconstruction patients in particular, and as a result strives to provide each with not only understanding, patience and surgical skill, but also with a return to the quality of life they, and all plastic surgical patients, deserve.
PSR: What drew you to plastic surgery?
Dr. Perdikis: It's a very technically oriented specialty more than a diagnostic specialty, and also it deals in improving quality of life rather than quantity of life – which I appreciate.
PSR: How did you prepare during residency to get into a competitive Fellowship?
Dr. Perdikis: You never know the path your life will take. I've always had the philosophy that I would put opportunities in my back pocket because I might need them someday – so I'd say "yes" to whatever opportunity came along, and research became a very important part of that. Even though a lot of my research is in general surgery, it still helped me get a top-notch plastic surgery Fellowship. Also, it's all about managing things you can control. For instance, the In-Service Exam scores and board scores are in your control. So the better you do with those, and the more you publish and develop your CV, the more competitive you'll be as an applicant. As a foreigner, that was important to me as I competed for a plastic surgery training spot.
I'm from South Africa, where I completed medical school and a one-year internship before relocating to England for six months in ENT surgery as a senior house officer. Then I did military service in South Africa (a compulsory enlistment) for one year, followed by ENT training in South Africa. I soon moved to the United States, where I did research for two years in Creighton's Department of General Surgery. I followed that with a six-year surgical residency a plastic surgery residency at Vanderbilt University – then to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., for 15 years before returning to Vanderbilt four years ago.
PSR: What impact did the Fellowship have on your career?
Dr. Perdikis: It was critical in placing me on an academic pathway. If you go into a top-notch training program that academic feel, it can create the pathway that I wanted to follow. I already created my benchmarks around academia with my research and all of that. The Fellowship galvanized that thought process for me.
PSR: How important is a mentor in the early years of practice?
Dr. Perdikis: Very important. To be honest, I lacked a bit of mentorship early on in my plastic surgical career. I had very powerful and important mentors when I was starting out in general surgery, but I sort of lost my way a little bit. That speaks to the importance of mentorship; it meant I took a longer path and needed extra time to re-energize my academic career in plastic surgery, because I don't feel I had the mentorship I had in general surgery.
PSR: How has your involvement in societies and committees helped your career?
Dr. Perdikis: Volunteerism and serving societies are important, but you've got to be careful about volunteering for every shiny object that comes along. It's important to be focused and only volunteer for that which you're passionate about and that you feel you can make a difference in. Otherwise, you'll lose your way by chasing different things that seem important. The last thing you should be doing society and committee work for is because you think people will think better of you. It's all about service and helping your specialty.
PSR: What's the most important attribute a resident needs?
Dr. Perdikis: We can generally teach most residents to be technical proficient and to take care of people, so it boils down to two things: You can't get your integrity back if it's compromised, so integrity is No. 1, and the top-notch residents have that in abundance. Also, kindness: If you can't demonstrate kindness toward your staff, patients, family and friends, you aren't going to get to where you want to be in your career.
PSR: How do you balance your professional and personal lives?
Dr. Perdikis: I'd love to find the right answer to that; I always struggled to balance my professional and personal lives. I'm fortunate that my family is very strong; I work inordinately hard, so it's great to have a family that understands why I do what I do. My wife's father was a general surgeon, and that was huge in allowing me the freedom to chase my professional career. But I don't have a perfect balance.
PSR: What do you enjoy most about being a plastic surgeon?
Dr. Perdikis: I truly think it places quality over quantity with regard to life. That's special. We truly believe in improving the patient's quality of life. For me, that's enough sometimes. We totally appreciate lengthening people lives, treating cancer and other wonderful work, but quality also is important. That's where we fly.
PSR: What are some of the challenges you regularly encounter?
Dr. Perdikis: Time management and the burden of documentation that doesn't benefit patient care. If you ask most plastic surgeons, they feel we're being burdened more and more with documentation to checkboxes – and that doesn't help us be present and patient-centric.
PSR: How does teaching play a role in your schedule?
Dr. Perdikis: We belong to an academic institution and department, and hence one of our primary core values is education and teaching. It's woven into the fabric of everything we do each day. It's something we cherish as surgeons; we love being teachers and mentors to our residents.
PSR: Do you have any words of advice for residents?
Dr. Perdikis: It's easy to get distracted in plastic surgery by all the super-cool stuff and pathways. I feel residents need to enjoy the process that is their residency; don't just look at the end goals, be patient and focus on what you want to be and who you are. Understanding who you are as a surgeon is critical to long-term success.
PSR: Would you please complete this sentence? "I knew I wanted to become a plastic surgeon when..."
Dr. Perdikis: I was a third-year general surgery resident assisting on a free latissimus flap to a complex leg fracture. It was the ability to improve the quality of that patient's life that was critical to me being happy – and hence my decision to go down the path of plastic surgery.