It actually speaks to one of my core beliefs, and a philosophy that my mother instilled in me at a very young age. It speaks to education and integrity. I am fiecrcely independent and I make no excuses for it. While it serves as my strength, it also functions as my weakness. In times such as these and in situations such as took place following the death of Donda West, it meant that no one was there to protect my flank. That is okay and I accept the consequences. But, make no mistake about it, I do not adhere to tribalism; I do not support guild socialism; and I do not require anyone’s permission except my own in order to succeed.
However, in September of 2006, one of my closest friends, Dr. Noel Tenenbaum, an excellent plastic surgeon in Tampa, Florida, challenged me to take the board exam. “Okay,” he said, “You’ve made your point. You’ve proven you are better at this than the rest of us. Get it done.”
And so, I got on a plane and flew to Chicago for a review course. The problem was, when I got off the plane, I collapsed with bilateral pulmonary emboli and required two weeks of hospitalization. It would appear that God laughs at those who make plans, because God has his own plans. It would appear that God wanted me to do other things. So let’s review:
I attended and graduated from Harvard College, which is ranked number one in the country by US News as America’s best college (now, I know some of my best friends who attended Princeton would argue that at the time they attended Princeton it was ranked #1 – but let’s just say I chose Harvard over Princeton). I then went on to Ohio State University College of Medicine, ranked 37th out of 116 of America’s best graduate schools. I then trained in general surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital, the Cornell affiliate, ranked 15th; plastic surgery at the University of Michigan, ranked 10th; and UCLA for aesthetic surgery, ranked 13th. My point is not to impress you. My point is to impress upon you that there are different ways of going about medical training, each of which carries its own advantages, and disadvantages. Other areas of surgery offer an “in” into cosmetic surgery without going this route.
I chose not to do the minimum. And think about it. Where would we be if everybody settled for the minimum? Where would Tiger Woods be as a golfer if he did just the minimum? Where would George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Sam Jackson, and Denzel Washington be as actors if they just did the minimum? Where would Spike Lee or Steven Spielberg be as directors if they did just the minimum? And where would America be as a country if we did just the minimum?
I’m not suggesting that the ability to do cosmetic surgery is merely a function of the number of years of training, or the type of training. Nonetheless, the question placed on the table by the media was really, who is in fact qualified to do it? I would make the argument that there are other disciplines, and other manners in which to train, besides plastic surgery that also do a good job at cosmetic surgery. (Understand, cosmetic surgery isn’t specifically a discipline. It merely refers to aesthetic procedures whose delineation at best, is somewhat murky as to whose realm it really is, or should be.) There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind that there are gynecologists who do better liposuction; general surgeons who do better tummy tucks and breasts; ophthalmologists who do better eyelid surgery; and otolaryngologists who do better noses and face lifts.
The point I’m trying to make is that when a surgeon says, “I’m board certified” in a certain area, what he is really saying- if you scratch him hard enough- is that “this is my area and I don’t want anyone infringing on it.” But the truth of the matter is that this is still America, and America is about competition. So I say, let the cream rise to the top. Those people who are good at it will attract the clientele who will follow them, plain and simple.
But why, you might ask, is all this important? I don’t care about Donda West, it’s over. We’ve moved on. (That’s exactly what the producers at CNN, Dr. Phil, TMZ, Access Hollywood, and the editors at People Magazine said when I offered corrections, with documentation, to their stories. Galina Espinoza at People was actually more calloused: “She’s dead; nobody cares…and unless you have something new that we’re interested in, we don’t care.”)
My answer is that you should care because we live in a democracy. In a democracy, where people vote on issues, information, good information, and not some reporter’s “take” or “angle” is fundamental. That is precisely why the 1st amendment to the constitution addressed the issue. With bad information we make bad decisions. That’s why we have a war where thousands of Americans, along with hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, have died looking, initially, for WMD’s that did not exist. We were sure they did and that is why Americans supported the war effort. Nonetheless, John King at CNN said it best, “We dropped the ball on that one”. He shrugged. The problem is his shrug did nothing for the innocent children who died, and are dying, as a result of the war. So it’s important because, if the press, any press, is going to have constitutional protection, they have to get it right and they must be held accountable. And hopefully when wrong, correct their mistake as soon as possible. Attack the truth with as much vigor as they presented their falsehoods. By comparison this is a small issue; but as any football coach knows sloppiness in practice spills over to the game.
Donda West got no justice because of it.