Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cosmetic CHANGE
Usha Albuquerque

Think about Michael Jackson and what he looked like 20 years ago. Remember Christopher Reevesís devastating accident, and how he still managed to look quite good. Think of the many film stars and how they start to look better and better! You can then begin to imagine the power in the hands of a plastic surgeon ó the doctor with the power to mould and give new form. Thatís what plastic means, coming from the Greek word plastikos.

The field of medicine is very vast and specialisations within it are increasing by the day. Plastic surgery is one field that has increased in importance and demand. Plastic surgeons are required not only to help film stars transform themselves, but also enable those with disfigurations due to illness or accidents, regain their confidence and physical appearance. Plastic surgeons have carried out skin grafts and reshaped Michael Jacksonís nose to make him look more gorgeous (or so he thinks!). This is cosmetic surgery and several models, film stars and the like in India too, have also undergone such procedures, including fat suction, silicon implants and face lifts to enhance their physical attractiveness.

Christopher Reeves had reconstructive surgery carried out, to restore his face and parts of his body that had been injured after his disastrous fall from a horse that confined him to a wheelchair for life. Accident scars, burn injuries and physical deformities are handled through reconstructive surgery - the not-so-glamorous part of plastic surgery.

Plastic surgery is a super specialisation in medicine and, therefore, requires many years of training - 12 to be precise. You would first need to get a basic MBBS degree. During your internship you can decide on the area of specialisation and then apply for an MS (Masterís in Surgery). This is a three-year course during which you will be attached to a hospital and be handling a good deal of practical work. Once you qualify with an MS you can choose a further super specialisation, as it is called, in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery. This is also a three-year course, which for the fields of neurosurgery, cardiothoracic, paediatric and plastic surgery is also called Masterís of Chirurgiae (M. Ch).

Skin deep

Those who have passed the plus two examination with physics, chemistry and biology are eligible for the MBBS course. However, as you are aware, you have to go through highly competitive entrance examinations for admission to medical colleges.

The all-India entrance examination conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) admits students on an all-India basis to 15 per cent of the total seats in all medical and dental colleges run by the central government, state governments and local bodies, except in Andhra Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. There are also separate entrance examinations conducted by medical colleges affiliated to universities run and managed by state governments which admit students on the basis of state domicile.

The MBBS course is of five-and-a-half year duration, which includes four-and-a-half years of classroom study and practicals. The MBBS course content includes subjects such as Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Surgery, Orthopaedics, Paediatrics, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, etc in three phases of 18 monthsí each. Examinations are held at the end of each phase, and the third phase is mainly devoted to clinical work in the wards and departments of the hospital. This is followed by one year of internship during which a student is able to decide on his field of interest or specialisation, after which the MBBS degree is awarded with a license to practice as a doctor from the State Medical Council.

The postgraduate programmes are generally of three yearsí duration leading up to the Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Surgery (MS) degree. Those who go in for a postgraduate diploma course need to undertake at least a one-year course for full registration with the State Medical Council.

Jobs youíre cut out for

Once you have qualified it is advisable to work in a hospital under the guidance of a senior plastic surgeon. This is as much an aesthetic field as it is a scientific one, and therefore learning through watching and experience is extremely valuable. You also need to practise the technical skilled and precision of close and minute surgery and build your reputation in this field.

After some years of experience, you can start your own practice. You would also need to buy the necessary equipment that is highly sophisticated.

Job opportunities for plastic surgeons in India is limited to large cities and multi-specialty hospitals. Few government hospitals have departments of plastic surgery although some of the major ones do carry out reconstructive surgery. You can also take up teaching which, given the dearth of qualified people in this field, may offer good prospects.

Skill set

Being an area of expertise that is continuously evolving, you will need to keep studying and constantly update your skills and knowledge. It is therefore a career that demands sustained interest and acumen for hard work. Moreover, as a surgeon spends most of the time in operation theatres, you must possess high concentration and stamina, both physical and mental. You will be standing on your feet continuously for several hours dealing with life and death. You also require to have good interpersonal skills and be able to work in a team. Add to that, excellent psycho-motor skills, a steady hand, strong nerves and an aesthetic sense, as much of what you do has to finally look attractive and pleasing to the eye. Whatís more, you require keen and minute observation, good judgement, patience, and an amiable and sympathetic temperament.

The opportunities and prospects for plastic surgeons are bright. With people becoming more and more conscious of their looks the scope for plastic surgeons especially in the area of cosmetic surgery can only increase. Moreover, the profession can prove to be quite lucrative, particularly for those in private practice. And with vast improvements in the availability of state-of-the-art equipment, you can also be assured of a fulfilling and challenging career.

So if you have what it takes, are willing to invest 12 years of your life and have a yen for the bold and the beautiful, then plastic surgery may be just what the doctor advised.

The writer is a noted career expert