The importance of Black History Month in plastic surgery
Black History Month was created as a way to focus our attention on the contributions of Black Americans in society. Its intent was not only to honor all Black people from all periods of United States history, but to provide an opportunity to celebrate the triumphs of these individuals throughout time.
In history, one surgeon in particular, Arthur L. Garnes, MD, is noted as one of the original trailblazers in the field of plastic surgery. Garnes was the nation's first board-certified Black plastic surgeon. He also co-founded and oversaw Harlem Hospital's plastic surgery program, the first recognized plastic surgery residency in a predominantly Black hospital. While Garnes is just one of the many Black plastic surgeons worth mentioning, his legacy is everlasting, and many believe he opened the doors for other Black surgeons in the field.
Although Black History Month has historically run for 28 days – from February 1 to February 28 – the importance of celebrating diversity and inclusion is evergreen.
The importance of representation
"I'm not special because I'm Black, but I do recognize that there are young women out there who've never seen a Black doctor or a Black surgeon. And until you see it, you can't dream that you can be it," said Camille Cash, MD, who made history as the first African American female plastic surgeon in Texas more than 20 years ago.
And Cash, like many other surgeons, has made it part of her mission to let young women know they can be successful and can be the first person to go out there and blaze a trail.
"So, representation is important. Representation matters. And representation does have an impact," said Cash. "The message, I would say, is for anybody out there that has a dream or a vision and you don't know how to get there just because you may be the first one. Just find your own path blazed, your own trail, believe in yourself and surround yourself by people who will propel you forward."
Diversity's role in improving outcomes for patients
Bringing a diverse group of people together who have different backgrounds, different experiences and, therefore, different perspectives is essential in a field like plastic surgery.
"For medicine, in particular, diversity, inclusion and equity are particularly important because our patients rely on those more open-minded perspectives," said ASPS President-Elect Steven Williams, MD. "Our patients rely on the fact that we understand and that we have background and experience of where they're coming from and the challenges that they've felt within society."
And any good plastic surgeon will tell you that putting their patients first and giving them the best care possible is always of the utmost importance, and this doesn't just mean giving patients postop instructions. It also means making sure they have a plastic surgeon who can best understand them as an individual.
"Reinforcing the concept of inclusion, reinforcing the hallmark of the importance of equity and the value of diversity is incredibly important in medicine because it means our patients get better care and that has to be the most important thing as plastic surgeons we think about," said Williams.
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.