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Why I enjoy teaching Medical Students about Plastic Surgery


As a Medical Student at the University of Toronto in the late 1990’s, I was exposed to a plethora of medical  specialties – including Plastic Surgery.  While I am the daughter of a Breast Surgeon and Surgical Oncologist, I did not know I would end up becoming a surgeon who worked with breast cancer patients myself

I made the decision to go to Medical School after completing my Master of Science graduate degree and spending two years working with DNA and transgenic mice in the Cancer Research Laboratories .  I came to understand that life in the lab with pure science for stimulation and very little interpersonal contact was not where I was meant to me.  Instead, I was driven to work with people instead of inanimate test tubes and intellectually knowing my work MIGHT help others someday.  I needed to help others directly!

med studentI imagined that Pediatrics and working with children was the perfect career for me.  I had always worked with children, teaching swimming, life-guarding and working as a summer camp counselor in Canada for years.

I also worked extensively during my undergraduate and graduate years at university with women who had eating disorders and who suffered body image and self-esteem issues.  Art was always also a passion of mine from childhood onward, and when asked by my parents what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always answered “an Artist!”…

Thankfully, there was a formal mentorship program at my teaching hospital, Sunnybrook Medical Center, in Toronto.  I had the ability to be matched with a Doctor in any specialty I liked – and thanks to the encouragement of my newlywed husband, I chose to learn about Plastic Surgery.  And I am SO GLAD I did!

What I learned from my Mentor, Dr. Christopher Forrest (who is now Head of Plastic Surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto), was all about Plastic Surgery.  I spent two summers doing research projects with Dr. Forrest, and through him I learned was that the specialty of Plastic Surgery deals with the entire human body from head to toe, encompasses all ages, from fetal surgery and newborns, children and adults and the elderly, and ranges from purely reconstructive to cosmetic and many procedures in between.  Thanks to Chris Forrest my eyes were opened to the specialty that would become my profession.

Plastic Surgery enables me to make the best use of ALL my interests and abilities:  helping others, using my brain, my hands, my artistic abilities, my interest in working with other women, body image and self-esteem – and making a career of it!  And now that I am a mother myself of twins, the Mommy Makeover spectrum of procedures holds even more significance and rewards, as I can treat my peers and friends and help them achieve their personal goals for their bodies.  Reconstructive Microsurgery is a subspecialty itself within Plastic Surgery, and advanced breast reconstruction gives me such personal and professional satisfaction, despite the horrible insurance reimbursement for such complicated surgeries!

I have always loved to teach – from swimming and life saving skills, to math tutoring in high school and art to kids.  So teaching what I had learned to those a little behind me in their training was a joy and a natural thing for me to do.  I am so pleased to see some of the Medical Students I helped to mentor during my Residency become Plastic Surgeons themselves in Canada.

So in private practice in San Francisco, although I don’t hold a formal teaching position at any University, I regularly see Medical Students and Residents from Stanford University, University of California San Francisco (UCSF), Touro University, UC Davis and others.  My surgical cases are “experiential” only – meaning the students only need to show up if they are interested in learning and observing.  Generally they don’t get to do anything, unless they regularly attend and I get to know them well and learn to trust them with my patients.

I was pleased to receive an evaluation recently from UCSF on my teaching abilities.  Here is a quote from a recent Medical Student who evaluated me for their experience in the O.R., observing me perform Plastic Surgery for one day:

“Dr. Horton went out of her way to teach me and to expose me to as many cases as possible on the day I spent with her. She was approachable and made herself available for questions or future shadowing. In the OR, she assessed my knowledge and clearly explained her surgical technique as well as patient anatomy. She additionally modeled kind and caring interaction with patients. Overall, I really enjoyed and learned tremendously from the time spent with Dr. Horton.”

Hopefully, this student had a good experience learning about Plastic Surgery and might be stimulated to consider a career in this incredible profession themselves!  If not, at least they had the opportunity to witness firsthand what Plastic Surgery IS and ISN’T – unlike the drama-filled scenarios on reality TV that the general public is often exposed to!

I love what I do, and teaching Medical Students about Plastic Surgery is a joy!  To learn more about Dr. Horton, visit her bio page and read her CV.  To schedule a consultation with Dr. Horton, call 415-923-3067 or complete our online form today!

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Dr. Karen M. Horton, M.D. - Plastic Surgery, Physicians & Surgeons - Medical-M.D., San Francisco, CA