8 Top Tips from Dr. Camille Cash on Becoming a Plastic Surgeon
Double board-certified plastic surgeon Camille Cash, MD, always knew she wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t know which kind. When she found herself riveted by the study of anatomy while in medical school at Baylor College of Medicine, she realized that surgery was her calling. It was only during her residency, however, that she zeroed in on plastic surgery specifically.
“In just one month of the plastic surgery rotation, I saw reconstructive surgery, hand surgery, aesthetic surgery, reconstruction of the breast, reconstruction of the hand, reconstruction of the head and neck, and I just was blown away by the field,” Dr. Cash says. “It was so fascinating and intriguing, I knew my direction was to become a plastic surgeon.”
Fast forward and Dr. Cash now owns a private practice where she serves plastic surgery patients from Houston and the surrounding communities. Her team offers a full range of surgical and medical spa procedures, with special emphasis on aesthetics, including breast and body cosmetic surgery. Dr. Cash is proud to be the first African American woman in the state of Texas to be certified by both the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Here, she shares the nuggets of wisdom that got her where she is today.
1. Follow your passion.
Over time, Dr. Cash’s practice has shifted to almost 100% aesthetics because she’s found it to be a good fit—for her personal and professional goals as well as her lifestyle. And new technological advances have only made the practice more exciting. “It's been a gradual transition from just the love of surgery and the ability to heal patients to what I do now. I'm actually taking the patient to the operating room, fixing them on the table so to speak, and then helping them with their transition,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun, and it's just really very rewarding to be able to provide medicine, service, and wellness all at once.”
2. Keep moving forward.
Even if you don't know exactly what you want to do in your career, forge ahead anyway. “I love football, so I think about running backs,” Dr. Cash shares as an analogy. “They make these amazing plays because they always keep their feet moving, even if they don't exactly know where a pocket is going to open up, then the next thing they are yards down the line.” To Dr. Cash that means being open to new experiences, accepting input or criticism from others, and just trying to absorb as much information as possible. “You may not love everything you have to do in your training,” she adds, “but you must always embrace it because you never know where that knowledge will take you or which opportunity it may present. For example I did over a year on and off the cardiovascular surgery service, I didn’t want to be a heart surgeon, but I learned some valuable skills that I apply to this day.”
3. Take the time to learn your patient’s story.
“There's always a story about a patient and I want to know what that story is,” Dr. Cash says. She learned this early in her career when, after breast augmentation surgery, her patient felt that her new augmented breasts were much larger than desired. She said, “I'm a Sunday school teacher and I'm embarrassed to go in with these large breasts.” And Dr. Cash thought, “The last thing I want to do is take you to the operating room with the goal of helping achieve a patient’s aesthetic goal and then come out and it's worse.” For Dr. Cash, it was a key lesson in the learning who your patients are and what they are really looking for even if sometimes the patients themselves are unsure.
4. Don’t be afraid to say no.
Dr. Cash prides herself on being straight about what is— and what isn’t—realistic. “Surgery is not a magic wand,” she tells patients. “I can't make you 20, I can't make you look like your friend or your sister, but I can help you achieve your aesthetic goal,” she says. She won’t tell someone with a stocky build, for example, that with fat transfers and a Brazilian butt lift she can look like JLo. “I say, ‘Well, I can't do that, but this is what I can do.’” And ultimately, patients are appreciative. “If you under-promise and over deliver, everybody's happy,” she says.
5. Keep learning—even from your peers.
Dr. Cash has had a comprehensive formal education: Four years of medical school, five years of general surgery residency, and then two additional years of plastic surgery residency. But she still goes to seminars, peer-related conferences and symposiums, and she almost always comes away with a little pearl of wisdom. She’s also in online chat groups where colleagues share new skills and before and after photos. Lastly, she’s not afraid to learn from residents when they bring in new ideas. “It’s nonstop—you’re always expanding, always growing, always trying to develop your skills and be better and better,” she says.
6. If you want to shadow, do your homework.
Dr. Cash believes that when you approach a practitioner about a shadow opportunity, you should be prepared to explain not just why you want to shadow that person, but why they should want you to shadow them. That’s because her number one focus is always her patients and how best to serve them. “I can feed you information and knowledge, but your role should be to give something back in return as much as possible, and then it's a win-win situation,” she says.
7. To stand out from the crowd, make yourself indispensable.
“You have to show up to work every day and give 100%,” says Dr. Cash, who was once voted Resident of the Year by her peers. “It's not easy when you're tired and you haven't slept and you haven't seen your family in weeks, but you show up every day, do your paperwork, and do what you know you need to do, all the time, and with a positive attitude.”
8. Don’t underestimate the role of diversity.
Diversity may be a trending topic, but it’s here to stay, and it can only help you provide better care in your practice. “The whole idea of being a doctor is to heal people—all people. Not just some people,” Dr. Cash says. The diversity of this nation is changing, she adds, and if you don’t get on board, you're going to get left behind, and that transcends to patient care.
About Camille Cash, MD
Camille Cash, MD, graduated magna cum laude from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She then returned to Houston, where her family lived, and earned her MD from Baylor College of Medicine. Deciding to become a surgeon, she entered a 5-year general surgery residency through St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center, and went on to complete a 2-year residency in plastic surgery.