Each year, a few BHP grads go on to medical school, but it certainly isn’t the usual path for most BHP grads. Even fewer choose to go into plastic surgery like Sergio Alvarez, BHP ’03, and Sean Paul, BHP ’05. Alvarez owns a practice in Miami and is recognized as the top plastic surgeon in the area. Paul recently moved back to Austin to open a practice, which has multiple offices across the city.
BHP: What led you to choose medicine and plastic surgery as your specialty?
Sergio Alvarez operates his own practice, Alvarez Plastic Surgery, in Miami.
Alvarez: After seeing my first open heart surgery at the age of 10, I knew then that there was nothing else I wanted to do than to be a surgeon. Plastic surgery got my attention during medical school due to the fact that it was not only the most competitive specialty to get into and the surgeons training me were revered as “the best”, but it was the ability to work on every part of the body and really focus on the “art form” that captured me. It was the finesse that it required that captivated me.
Paul: My father was my inspiration. He was a family medicine physician in south Texas and had an amazing relationship with his patients. My love for surgery developed during my gross anatomy classes in medical school, but mostly from caring for wounded soldiers returning to Brooke Army Medical Center, for whom I assisted in caring for severe facial and ocular burns. Thus began my love for ophthalmology and facial plastic surgery, and a career in oculofacial plastic surgery began.
BHP: How has your background in business been helpful to you in your practice?
Alvarez: There is no question that the business education I received through the Business Honors Program has been invaluable. I think the biggest challenges physicians face today are the intricacies of opening up a practice. That was something that didn’t scare me at all. I came to Miami which is THE most competitive market for aesthetic plastic surgery with all the business tools I needed to succeed. I plan to set up an office in Austin soon!
Sean Paul operates his own practice, Austin Oculofacial Plastics.
Paul: As a BHP alum, I completed internships and worked in operations in my family business prior to attending medical school. After ten years of medical school, a post-graduate residency, and a fellowship, I was faced with a life decision when choosing my career path after training. My background in business and my entrepreneurial spirit gave me a unique insight into the changing landscape of medicine and helped me choose to start my own practice. More specifically, my insight into the patient and business aspects of reconstructive and elective plastic surgery has helped me build a practice to help fill a need in the growing Central Texas and Austin communities. I now own and operate my own practice, Austin Oculofacial Plastics, based in Austin. I have offices in south Austin, north Austin, Westlake, Lakeway, New Braunfels, and Fredericksburg.
BHP: What is most challenging and most rewarding about your career as a plastic surgeon?
Alvarez: I think the most rewarding aspect of my career are the people I get to meet and treat from all over the world. Being in such an international city gives me the opportunity to learn about different cultures and different definitions of beauty. I think one of the biggest challenges we face are the misconceptions people see on TV and marketing gimmicks that are all over social media and the internet. A large portion of what we do as a collective group is educate our patients about how to go beyond the marketing and choose tried and true methods as well as choose qualified practitioners that are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Paul: The most challenging part of my career is continually striving to focus on excellent patient care. With the commercialization of plastic surgery, I strive to maintain a down-to-earth relationship with patients and make a point to call them at night after surgery. As I have gotten busier, I remain committed to that tenet of care for my patients. I genuinely find it rewarding when patients simply say ‘thank you’. As medicine and plastic surgery continues to change, you frequently hear stories of patients feeling like they are just a number on a spreadsheet. I personally have found complete comfort in feeling fully invested in my practice. My patients’ kind words and feedback are the best possible reward. I truly love what I do and it is my pleasure to care for each and every one of my patients.
BHP: What advice do you have for current BHP students who may be interested in pursuing an MD?
Alvarez: The best advice I can give BHP students interested in medicine is to stay dedicated to the long path it takes to become a physician because the rewards are well worth the wait. As they see their colleagues start entering the corporate world and get high salary positions, they should realize there is little to substitute the feeling one gets from changing peoples’ lives on a daily basis.
Paul: Explore the medical and surgical field early on and be certain that it is the career path you want more than anything else in the world. You will be faced with personal and professional decisions and be pulled in multiple directions in your career as a physician. No matter what else is going on in your day or in the world, when you are in the operating room with that patient, you owe them your 100% undivided attention. Talk with physicians in your community about shadowing opportunities and be proactive in your career research. Study hard, enjoy your life as a BHP student, soak up the amazing city of Austin (so happy I am back), and understand that if you choose the field of medicine – you will be one of the few professionals given the privilege of caring for others for a living. I could not imagine doing anything else.