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Practice makes perfect: Surgeons meld art, science

Article-Practice makes perfect: Surgeons meld art, science

It comes as no surprise to plastic surgeon Roger Simpson, M.D., president of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group in Garden City, N.Y., that one-quarter of the 12 practice partners are skilled artists.

Barry Douglas, M.D.
Plastic surgery and art make a happy marriage, he says.

"If you take a cross section of plastic surgeons in any community, I think you are going to find that many are trained in and sensitive to various forms of art. I think that is a quality that attracts people to the specialty," Dr. Simpson says.

Dubbed the largest and longest continually running plastic surgical group in the nation in its press releases, the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group was founded in 1948 by the late Leonard Rubin, M.D., and Richard Walden, M.D., D.D.S.

Nearly 60 years later, the practice boasts 12 plastic surgeons (11 of whom are fellowship-trained) in a 24,000-square-foot facility with two new operating rooms. The partners see more than 11,000 patients each year, and the practice employs a whopping 75 people.

The secret to the practice's success?

"There is something for everyone in this practice," Dr. Simpson says. "We have been able to maintain the full gamut of plastic surgery — from congenital abnormalities to cosmetic surgery. The County Medical Center is the parent institution for the residency program that we run, so we enjoy that crossover between academic and private practice, which is fairly unique."

The practice's two-year residency program turned out its first resident in 1954 and has graduated more than 100 plastic surgeons since.

But it isn't just plastic surgery that brings these partners together: Many share a passion for art, and four have devoted significant portions of their lives to learning an art.

Canvas expressions

In the early 1990s, partner Vincent R. DiGregorio, M.D., made annual trips to Provence, France, to learn about oil painting from a classically trained painter.

"Plastic surgery and painting seem to scratch the same itch. In many ways they are very similar — in terms of being satisfying and seeing results and being creative," Dr. DiGregorio says.

Dr. DiGregorio says he looks at the world differently since becoming a painter.

"I would say it increases your aesthetic sense and appreciation," he says.

Like plastic surgery, art offers variety. Dr. DiGregorio has since branched into sculpture, using "found" objects. His first work of art is a combination of farm machinery and deer skulls.

Partner Barry Douglas, M.D., was an art major at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.

"While I was approached to sell in galleries, I did not want to use my art talent specifically for selling paintings. I concluded that I could use my talents in art and combine it with my interests in science to reach a more satisfying goal," Dr. Douglas says.

"It is like a certain instinct — an aesthetic sense is helpful in terms of determining balance, volume, contour," he says. "Every time a patient comes in here, I have pen in hand, sketching on paper some aspect of the procedure. I think they like that. As opposed to manipulating an image on the computer, they see what I am doing with my own hands."

A realist painter, Dr. Douglas says the art has given him an intuition — a way to assess the aesthetics of a clinical problem in a way that one cannot learn. His paintings are highly realistic still lifes and portraits. His favorite media are pastels, pen and ink and aquarelle.

While Dr. Douglas paints primarily for himself, he is considering exhibiting his work in a gallery in New York. He is also a musician, having played keyboard since 1966. He trained initially on the organ, then moved on to electric keyboards and ultimately to a 1927 Knabe grand.

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