An Artist Turned Plastic SurgeonMarch 15, 2008,
Art major Grant Stevens had no intentions of becoming a physician.
Then one day he went out for a run, and when a fellow runner came up lame, Stevens, MD, FACS, helped the other man back to his car and drove him home. That fellow runner turned out to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, and the next thing Stevens knew, he found himself at Washington University in St. Louis studying to be a cardiothoracic surgeon – something he still could not believe.
“I had no physicians in my family,” Stevens explains. “I had a bunch of entrepreneurs.”
Enter Paul Weeks, chairman of plastic surgery at the university. He gave Stevens some words of advice: “Chest surgeons only do about four operations. Plastic surgeons do a lot more.” Stevens took the advice to heart.
“I was an artistic kid in med school,” Stevens says. “So I started spending time in the plastics department, watching what [Weeks] did, and I thought, ‘That looks like a lot more fun.’ I could do artistic things, deal with psychosocial and emotional issues – it was so perfectly designed for who I was.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Meant to be
Stevens acknowledges that all surgical subspecialties require a certain amount of artistic endeavor. But without a doubt, at the top of the list has got to be creative plastic surgery, or creative cosmetics.
“Let’s face it, you don’t read a book about beauty,” he explains. “I mean, you can read as many books as you want, but no matter how many books you read you either get it or you don’t. You’re either an artist or you’re not.”
But it’s not just Stevens’ artistic talent that sets him apart. Back in the early 1980s he had an opportunity to work with lasers on children who had birth defects, and was amazed how he could make a child’s life better without picking up a knife.
Stevens went into practice in 1986 and kept pushing the envelope on what he could do for patients without cutting them. That push led to the founding of one of the country’s first Medi-Spas, called The Institute, and a therapeutic approach called the Technology of Beauty.
“I realized that when the aesthetic patients come in they look fine, they have plenty of money in their bank account, and they say, I want to look a little better,” Stevens says. “So, what do we do? The first thing we do is drain their bank account, and the second thing is we cut them. We hurt them. And then we tell them, don’t you look great? And I’m thinking, wait a minute, the model is wrong.”
Stevens kept working with laser and light sources, as well as other technologies. And while he lays no claim to inventing the procedure known as CoolSculpting, which freezes fat cells beneath the skin, he has certainly taken advantage of it.
“We can now subject certain parts of the body to a cold injury such that the fat dies and the skin doesn’t,” Stevens explains. “Well, how wonderful. I lose my love handles, women lose that back fat that bugs the heck out of them. This is part of the Technology of Beauty. How can I make people beautiful without picking up a scalpel? That is my agenda. That is my core concept. What can I do without blood?”
Social media maven
Stevens is no stranger to embracing new technologies. In 1994, when he purchased his first URL, many around him thought he was crazy – likewise, in 1996 when he started his first website. One of his professors told him, “A patient will never find a doctor off of a computer.” Stevens’ response, with all due respect, was that in his professor’s lifetime there would be no yellow pages. Of course, his professor disagreed.
Fast forward to the 300 URLs and 20 websites that Stevens currently owns, and he answers the question of how social media has impacted his practice with, “Are you kidding me?” Then he points to the numbers.
“Eighty percent of the U.S. population goes onto the Internet to research medicine, and 60% of those people will choose a physician based on internet information,” Stevens. “The data is perfectly clear. Those physicians who don’t get it, they’re gone, they’re history, they’re dinosaurs… they’re absolutely out of the game.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch
When he’s not practicing medicine, you’ll likely find Stevens at the Idaho ranch he and his brother purchased about a dozen years ago. It started with organic farming and a pheasant preserve, and has since expanded to horses and cattle – a herd of cattle that Stevens says are entirely organic and humanely treated. No antibiotics. No growth hormones.
“We also have an active kennel where we breed Labradors,” he explains. “And, in all candor, from the moment I hit the ground in Idaho, I am no longer Dr. Grant Stevens. I’m a cowboy, I’m a rancher, I’m a farmer, and I’m a naturalist. And it brings me such happiness and relaxation; I can’t even begin to tell you.”
Still, when he thinks about the most rewarding aspect of his life, besides raising his daughter, Stevens says that, without question, it’s the education of residents and fellows.
“That’s what keeps me getting up every morning,” Stevens explains. “That’s what keeps me completely energized. Dr. Paul Weeks gave me the tools and the gifts, and now I want to pass them on to other people. Without Dr. Weeks, I wouldn’t here talking to you.”