Dr. Ricky Brown talks about his journey from being a business major and a 2.6 GPA in his senior year of undergrad to now being a plastic surgeon. Richard is @drrichardjbrown on Instagram. You may have also seen him on TikTok @therealtiktokdoc.
Richard is an expert plastic surgeon with a passion for improving the lives of others through cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. We have a great conversation around Dr. Brown’s path to medicine. He shares about how he was dismissed and told that he probably wasn’t going to get into medical school. And yet a little bit of naivety quite helped him in that process.
For more podcast resources to help you along your journey to medical school and beyond, check out Meded Media.And if you haven’t yet, please check out Mappd.com and eShadowing.com, where we had almost 4,000 people who registered for our first show. It happens every Monday 8 pm ET.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:09] Interest in Becoming a Physician
As a Senior in college at Georgia, Richard spent his first two years at Syracuse University. And after two years at SU, he knew he needed to head back to the warm weather. So he cruised down back to Georgia and he was going to get into pre-business.
His dad owned a computer company selling computers to medical practices. They were doing that stuff back in like the 80s.
Richard had a push back moment, studying for an economics exam and realizing he didn’t like what he was studying. So he started soul searching in that one moment. He eventually volunteered at a hospital, did a few things, took some science classes and did really well and decided to go to med school.
He initially thought about going to a PA school or something else in health care. He just simply threw himself in to see what it’s like. At that point, his GPA was a 2.6. He wasn’t a great student and he talked about this on TikTok, being one of his first posts.
So he just had that aha moment of taking a science class to see what that’s like. He volunteered in the hospital to see what it’s like. Then he got an A in Gen Chem 1 without really working that hard. It was just something that resonated with him.
He loved his volunteer experience and just enjoyed the interaction with people, transporting people to ultrasounds or wherever they needed to go.
[04:48] The Audacity to Still Apply with a 2.6 GPA
Having taken another Chem class and got an A, Richard built some confidence in himself. He went to see his premed advisor in Georgia who laughed at him and told him he wasn’t going to get in. And this became his first motivating factor.
Then his father who told him he didn’t think Richard knew what he was up against. Although he never said he couldn’t do it, it was another motivating factor for him to really get into medical school.
Richard thinks that the reason this happened for him, which is quite common for nontrad students, is this whole scenario of going to college not really knowing what you want to do. So part of that problem is not knowing what you really like at such an age.“How can you be mature when you're 19 years old and going to college to try to plan out the rest of your life?”Click To Tweet
So Richard went on to map out all the premed classes he needed to take. He took a few more psych classes and all the premed classes. And he just never looked back. He was naive and just went for it. But not that naive enough to know that if he didn’t get in, he could always reapply. And he had a plan laid out in case that didn’t happen.
[12:02] The Burnout Factor: Why There’s Too Much Negativity Around Medicine from Physicians“The perception that all doctors are rich is not true.”Click To Tweet
Part of the burnout is insurance companies have made it so hard to make money. As doctors, we work so hard and we put the necks on the line medically for being sued. So there are a lot of bitter physicians out there that just can’t take it anymore, because you have to work too hard for the dollar. And it’s just really hard.
10 or 20, or even 30 years ago, a lot of the physicians who are out practicing, probably were just super smart. They think they’re going to be a doctor because they’re smart. But they didn’t really understand the empathy, compassion, and patient care side of things. And that potentially takes a toll on them and burns them out.
The ability to communicate is one of the most important things doctors must have. And if you don’t have that, it can be incredibly frustrating to try to communicate with patients. The patient population is so much more tuned in to the doctor needing to actually care and have a meaningful conversation with them. That if they don’t find that, they just go find someone else.
[14:24] Taking the MCAT and Applying to Medical Schools
Richard took a Princeton Review to prepare for the MCAT. He took the Summer version of the MCAT and got on the old scoring system of 25 or 26 and thought it wasn’t going to fly.
He had applied to schools but planned on retaking the MCAT because he was a year behind in the process. He had to get a job and work for a year in Atlanta while he was going to apply. So he retook it and got a 30. He applied to schools and was working as an orderly in the operating room in Atlanta, from which he got his love for surgery.
Every single school he applied to rejected him. He thought his story would resonate with them, because he had a clear change in his trajectory.
One day when he came home from the hospital after shift, he started calling admission offices of schools that had not rejected him yet. He called Chicago Medical School which is where he ended up getting in there. The girl he spoke to on the phone resonated with his story so she helped get him a phone interview. Richard had a phone interview with the director of admissions and he got a letter a week later to come to an interview. Then a week after that, he got an acceptance letter. Had he not taken that step to look out for himself, he probably wouldn’t have gotten in that year.“It's an underutilized skill that we don't teach enough these days to reach out and really advocate for yourself.”Click To Tweet
There’s this generation of helicopter parents where parents are the ones advocating for their kids all the time. But students definitely need to realize that they can do that – and do it appropriately.
And it’s easy to be annoying in that process. So if you’re looking to advocate for yourself, find something unique about yourself. And for Richard, it was his story. He was just looking for a shot and was looking for somebody he could talk to.
On a side note, we’re setting up eShadowing.com. We had almost 4,000 people who registered for our first show. It happens every Monday 8 pm ET.
In medical school, he didn’t get good grades and he didn’t kill the tests, and he didn’t get killed on tests either. He always found himself on the upper middle or middle of the class and he was okay with that.
[22:54] Picking a Specialty
All through his third year rotations, Richard kept an open mind. Even though he kind of knew he wanted to be a surgeon, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. And they didn’t really get exposed to orthopedics or subspecialties, it was just general surgery. When he saw general surgery, he knew it was something he wanted to do.
So he applied for general surgery and ended up getting at Mount Sinai in Chicago. He spent three years in the knife and gun club – trauma, heavy trauma, chest tubes, central lines, – you name it.
He felt three years of trauma was getting rough so he jumped over in the lab at Northwestern dealing with plastic surgery headed by the Chairman of Plastic Surgery at Northwestern. In the lab, he started learning more and more about plastic surgery.“Everyone sees it as the cosmetic space but people who do it know it's a way deeper specialty than that from the reconstructive standpoint.”Click To Tweet
Richard ended up matriculating and transferring over to Northwestern because they had a couple of residents who stayed in the lab another year, and they had some openings in their fourth year general surgery class. He wrote three or four papers while he was in his lab, and he got it done. And he kept his end of the bargain up and his mentor wrote him some good recommendations that really helped him out when he applied and he got into plastic surgery.
[25:42] The Scope of Reconstructive Surgery“There's a very vastly deep side of plastic surgery that most people don't see.”Click To Tweet
It encompasses pediatric surgery, cranial facial creams, anastomosis, those types of things, cleft lip cleft palates, to the adult reconstructive road, which could extend from breast cancer reconstruction, mastectomies, and trauma patients with large defects.
For instance, in free flap microvascular reconstruction, they take the tissue from one part of the body with an artery and a vein, and move it up to your jaw because half of it got removed for cancer. And under the microscope, they’d hook up and sew arteries and veins together to reconstruct the jaw, the face, the leg, bad fractures, etc.
This is something in their practice that most people don’t see. People don’t appreciate the depth of the reconstructive world that exists out there. And the people who really don’t do cosmetic surgery and have dedicated their life to reconstructive work is something that is life-changing.
[27:39] Advice to Premeds
You’ve got to learn how to turn those voices off and tell yourself that you can do this. In addition, realize that everybody fails.“Failing is important because what happens after you fail is what's going to define you as a person.”Click To Tweet
So start talking positively to yourself, and be okay with failure. And then clearly, you have to have a backup plan. How many times are you willing to apply to get to where you want to be? Some people apply three, four, or five times and they stick it out and some people just give up after two or one.
They’re all life lessons, man. We all have them and that’s part of it. The problem of social media today though is we see all the superficial, perfect life stuff. And that’s just the iceberg that’s sticking above the water. And above it, you see money and success. But then below the waters, you see hard work and failure. A lot of the people actually have worked really hard and failed a lot to get to where they are.
[30:31] When Should You Give Up?
Richard thinks that you feel that inside when it’s time to quit. Or if you feel that it’s just not right, people know inside of themselves when something’s just not right for them.
Stuff happens for a reason. There is a point where you have got to get on with your life. And if you’re not getting in three, four, or five, even six times, there’s a point where maybe you could do something else around medicine and healthcare that’s not being a doctor, and still have a meaningful impact.“There's a point where maybe you could do something else around medicine and healthcare that's not being a doctor, and still have a meaningful impact.”Click To Tweet
A lot of times, it’s the parents that are pushing them to do medicine. So this really takes a ton of reflection and self-awareness and really being honest with yourself about what you want. And that’s the key.
[34:59] A Health & Wellness Project
Richard has some cool stuff planned, and probably different than any other plastic surgeon you’ll ever meet.
He is very much into holistic health and wellness so he is starting up a wellness and health program in his office that hopefully will be big in their town, and eventually, nationwide.
They have a macronutrient coach, a mental body image specialist psychologist, a food prep program, and a trainer who are helping the patients get ready to be healthy before surgery. And if they don’t need surgery, when they’re done with them, then they can just move on.
Richard actually thinks this is his exit strategy from plastic surgery one day. He just really enjoys helping people become motivated to be more healthy.
When he exited out of plastic surgery training, he was close to 200 pounds. And he had always been a high school athlete and pretty in shape. So when he got out, he lost about 20 or 30 pounds. And then he found CrossFit and started packing on muscle.
The second part of it was realizing that a patient comes in who wants a tummy tuck. And they still have all this visceral fat underneath your six pack muscles inside the abdomen. He can tighten up your muscles with sutures, but you’re not going to be flat because you got this real fat underneath. And you can target that to lose them through a meal plan and move your body. So that’s really where this whole concept was born from.
He wanted patients to be able to get the lifestyle that they need in place before surgery so they can have a good result. But number two, so they can maintain that result for the rest of their life and not just yo-yo.
We don’t teach a lot of nutrition and exercise in school. As a society, everyone’s buying into these silly diets and silly plans that are money scheming. And if we could educate people to realize that not only can you still eat cookies every now and then and not shame food and restrict yourself, you can also have the body that you want to live in.
We’re doing a huge disservice by not showing people that you could learn to nutritionally supply your body every day with good and something we call “bad” and have that balance.“That's where the problem is people because they're always wanting the quick fix. And they don't realize that it's a journey to keep it.”Click To Tweet
[39:04] Final Words of Wisdom
Again, look in the mirror and ask yourself this question: Do you 100%, without any doubt, want to be a doctor and take care of patients?
Because if there’s anything else that you could see yourself doing, do that. And the reason is because the journey is so hard. If you are not 100% into it and when you do come across those tough times in medicine because it’s very difficult, then you will stumble, you will fall, and you will fail.“It will be hard to get back up when it's not in your heart and it's not what you really want to do.”Click To Tweet
Do a lot of soul-searching before you really decide to do this because it has to be in your gut that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life.
Follow Richard @drrichardjbrown on Instagram.
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