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Laser pioneer embodies 'servant leadership'

Article-Laser pioneer embodies 'servant leadership'

Richard Ora Gregory, M.D.
Plastic surgeon Richard Ora Gregory, M.D., has made a name for himself as a pioneer in the use of lasers in cosmetic surgery. But, as renowned as he is for his work in cosmetic laser research, Dr. Gregory gives equal emphasis to the importance of the daily interpersonal connections he feels with patients.

Dr. Gregory, who practices in the town of Celebration, near Disney World at Orlando, Fla., looks at his profession as a calling — a way of helping people feel better about themselves.

"Without becoming too maudlin about it, I basically feel God put me here," Dr. Gregory says. "I am a strong Christian. I pray with my patients if they want to do that and, if they do not, that is fine. I attract a lot of people who come here for that specific reason. Probably the most common comment that I get afterwards is that they really appreciate the prayer before surgery."

Finding his way Dr. Gregory's emphasis on the people connection has influenced his direction in life. For example, he maintains that he and many other physicians make their decisions about which specialties to pursue based on their experiences with chief residents during rotations in medical school.

Dr. Gregory said his plastic surgery rotation at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, with a crusty old Navy surgeon was what clinched his decision to go into the specialty.

"I really got to do a lot," he tells Cosmetic Surgery Times. "It was creative ... a lot of variety."

And, apparently, he had a knack for plastic surgery. Not only did he rank Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., as his No. 1 choice for a plastic surgery residency, but Duke also ranked him as its top pick. He would spend the next nine years under the watchful eye of surgery department Chairman David Sabiston, M.D., a chairman who earned the reputation as offering residents "the decade with Dave," according to Dr. Gregory.

"I spent nine years in my residency, including general surgery, hand surgery and plastic surgery, and I did a year's fellowship, too," Dr. Gregory says.

Early years The surgeon's journey to medical school was not without challenges.

Growing up in Indiana, Dr. Gregory was the second of eight sons. His father was a laborer, and his mother returned to work soon after her eighth child was born.

Dr. Gregory worked throughout high school at a drugstore. And when it came time to go to college, he had to go where scholarships were available. He landed at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.

"I got involved with the naval ROTC at Purdue, and an opportunity came up for an appointment to the Naval Academy. Consequently, I went there for four years for a bachelor's of science degree in naval science," Dr. Gregory says. "That was just about the time of the Vietnam War. I was assigned to a destroyer, and I had four years in the Navy on two different ships — most of the time in Vietnam or Southeast Asia."

Marriage to Marlene — now his wife of 39 years, who at the time was a nurse — and medical school followed his return from the Vietnam War.

A teacher at heart Dr. Gregory has tried throughout his career to influence future and established plastic surgeons as he was influenced.

He went into academia from 1980-86 at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, and from 1986-94 he served as a clinical instructor at the College of Health and Professional Studies at the University of Central Florida, Orlando. He continues to have clinical appointments at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and the University of Central Florida.

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