Gregory Branham, MD, chief of the division of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, specializes in cosmetic and functional rhinoplasty, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, cosmetic eyelid, forehead and facial surgery, otolaryngology and cosmetic procedures.
Dr. Branham sees patients at Washington University Facial Plastic Surgery Center, 1020 N. Mason Rd., Suite 205, Creve Couer, MO 63141.
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What happened in the course of schooling to influence you to choose your specialty?
In medical school I liked the intricacies of the head and neck anatomy. It’s the area where a lot of action takes place because all the special senses are there -- hearing, vision, smell, taste. It is how we take in the world. Also, the face establishes our identity – it’s how people recognize us and how we are viewed. I call it important real estate.
It is fascinating that there is so much involved in the small area of the head and neck -- I was hooked on the specialty of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery from the very beginning.
Did you always know you wanted to be a doctor?
I actually started my undergraduate degree majoring in biology. Because I enjoyed biology, my plan was to get a PhD in order to do research. It wasn’t until I worked in the lab as an undergrad, that the graduate students encouraged me to go to medical school. Their advice was if I was a medical student and eventually a doctor, I could still do research. Choosing medical school allowed me to open doors that might not have been available otherwise.
What brought you to Washington University?
I moved to St. Louis to do residency at St. Louis University, and then was very fortunate to match for my fellowship at Washington University. I had just gotten married, so we didn’t have to relocate.
I stayed in St. Louis after my fellowship and eventually returned to Washington University in 2004 as the director of plastic and reconstruction surgery.
Did you have a mentor here?
Dr. Regan Thomas was my fellowship director at Washington University and was the director of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery – which is now my position. It meant a lot to me to be able to come back here as the director and literally follow in his footsteps, and also to reinstitute the fellowship that had been dormant for quite some time.
What is the difference between plastic surgery and facial plastic surgery?
Plastic surgery deals with the entire body. My specialty of facial plastic surgery focuses on everything from the neck up -- we are limited to the head and neck region.
Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?
I have a varied practice that includes facial rejuvenation, skin cancer reconstruction and facial trauma reconstruction– I enjoy everything I do. Because every patient is different, this diversity provides a good balance for me.
If I had to pick one, rhinoplasty (reshaping the nose) is probably the most interesting procedure I do. The nose is a three-dimensional structure that includes bone, cartilage and soft tissue. Restoring somebody’s form and function can be challenging, particularly with revision rhinoplasty -- which I tend to perform more often than primary rhinoplasty.
What is revision rhinoplasty?
Revision rhinoplasty is performed to correct a previous surgical procedure on the nose – either a rhinoplasty or septoplasty (deviated septum). For whatever reason, the patient is not happy with the results – he or she is still not breathing well or just not pleased with the cosmetic appearance of the nose.
What new developments in your field are you most excited about?
The most exciting developments in our field are in the areas of tissue engineering. There is also a lot going on with 3-D printing and 3-D modeling.
Right now we shape the cartilage either with suture or surgery so that we get the appropriate shape for restructuring the nose.
Often with revisions, there is not much usable cartilage left in the nose, so we have to go to other sites. We always try to use the patient’s own cartilage –usually rib or ear cartilage, but donor cartilage can be used as well.
Hopefully in the not too distant future, we will be able to take a patient’s own cartilage, grow it and actually print a cartilage model – for example, a nose to use in a total nasal reconstruction.
3-D printing will allow us to be more precise -- getting the appropriate shape and appearance because it is a duplicate of the patient’s own cartilage.
Where are you from?
I’m from South Carolina. I went to undergraduate and medical school and did my surgery internship there. I’m a University of South Carolina Gamecock through and through.
All of my family still lives there and we visit several times a year.
Is there a particular award or achievement that is most gratifying?
The most gratifying achievement was when our practice received the NOVA award for best small clinical practice at Washington University. My partner, Dr. John Chi, and our staff strive to provide excellent service to all our patients. This award is a result of high patient satisfaction scores, and it is very rewarding to have our patients recognize our commitment to them.
Meeting the expectations of our patients – whether it is cancer reconstruction, trauma reconstruction or elective cosmetic surgery -- is always very fulfilling for me.
On the cosmetic front, are there any new procedures?
I think everybody is looking for the latest minimally invasive procedures to take the place of more invasive surgical procedures. Fillers are the area that has changed drastically – they are lasting longer and offer more applications in the face.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
The best advice has been to treat my patients as I would treat my family or as I would want my family to be treated. Over the years I have tried to live by that motto – it has served me well.
If you weren’t a doctor, what would you like to be doing?
I really like the creative process of what I do, so I’d probably be a chef or artist. I like to cook and do a fair amount of cooking in my free time.