The truth is I might have been brain-washed by my parents to enter into the medical world – not in a bad way though. My family arrived in Melbourne in 1979. We were boat people – refugees from Vietnam – so it was always instilled into us that we have to work hard, we have to study hard and we have to do well at school. Ever since I was young my mum always said ‘you’re going to be a doctor, you’re going to help people’ – it was something I could take with me anywhere around the world, despite war or harsh circumstances. I did toy with the idea of doing law, because I enjoy debating and I was fascinated by debating and politics. I got a scholarship to study law at the ANU in Canberra, but my mother who was a lawyer in Vietnam said ‘no way, you’re not doing that, you’ll be faced with ethical dilemmas that are not in your control. Do medicine instead.’
So I did medicine at Melbourne University and I combined it with Arts because Science was a bit limited for me and I wanted to explore my creative side as well. I always saw medicine as a profession rather than a passion. I was much better at Arts than Science – Arts came naturally to me but I really had to work hard at the Sciences. I guess the plastic surgery side of medicine allows me to be more creative, and it’s a different way of helping people. We don’t save lives, but we make such a big difference in their lives in terms of confidence and self-esteem and other aspects of their lives that is very empowering for people. They are often so grateful that they can be who they want to be.
I do surgery on skin cancers and hand traumas and clients are grateful, but they’re not like ‘you’ve changed my life.’ People think cosmetic surgery is about vanity, but people just want to feel the best that they can, and sometimes it takes something that one would think isn’t important to give someone that extra bit of self-esteem or even to be less conscious of that one particular thing. The thing that’s holding them back. You know, in little kids we change their ‘bat’ ears – there’s nothing wrong with their ears but parents don’t want their kids growing up being teased. Some people have areas of their body they are self conscious about, be it a mole or a scar, it can take away from the daily pleasures of life. It is a confidence thing. Giving birth changes people’s bodies, ageing changes people’s bodies – when we like what we see in the mirror or in a photograph, we are more confident and able to enjoy ourselves.
Studying medicine wasn’t easy. In reality, to be good at anything whether you want to be the best at your game in the accounting world or the acting world, in law or in medicine, it’s hard work. I am a bit driven naturally, so adequate was never enough. I’ve always wanted to push myself and see what the best is that I can do. I’ve always been obsessed. Sometimes my parents would say ‘it’s getting late, go to sleep’, but for me there was always more that I could do. That’s just me – whereas my sister is the complete opposite, enough is enough. I think I was just born that way. When it came to specialising, I had no idea which direction to take. I loved everything I did from orthopaedics to neurology, to renal surgery and general surgery, I enjoyed the practical and creative side. But I just fell into the plastic surgery side. I did a job at the Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and I was really inspired by the amazing work they did with the kids.
In 2005 I met my husband in Perth. I was here for a medical conference and I had previously met his sister at a Vietnamese Youth Conference in Sydney and she happened to be Perth at the same time – so I met him and six months later we were married. It was bizarre, such a whirlwind. I was very much at the beginning of my career and had no intention of being in a relationship or getting married, but it didn’t turn out that way! It was hard leaving Melbourne to move to Perth – but I moved here and did my plastic surgery training and it took four years to specialise, so it was more than a dozen years of study all up. It was a long road, in particular the surgical training which was tough. The hours and the study didn’t bother me but it’s a very male dominated workplace - you get lots of support from the nursing staff but it is tough for a woman. It is a bit soul-destroying because you’re working so hard. I passed but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but doing an aesthetic surgery fellowship in Melbourne completely transformed my life, I was inspired.
Ella is now nearly nine and Nathan is four (and I am pregnant with my third child!). When Ella came along I was in my first year of training, when I was 28. Some people thought I was jeopardising my career by starting a family, but I thought surely in today’s day and age it wouldn’t make a difference? It was hard. I had to prove I was as good as anyone else, and even harder to prove I didn’t need any extra consideration. I didn’t want to be one of those women the men all whinge about because I was a mum. I was lucky though because I had a lot of support from my in-laws and from my own parents who used to come and stay from Melbourne, and I had a nanny. Fiona Wood was one of my mentors when I was training, and her advice was to take time off because she wished she had taken more time. I felt under pressure to go back straight away so no-one thought I was slack or I wasn’t committed – so I took six months off training but after three months I did a burns fellowship with Fiona Wood for three months.
When I had Nathan I was already a consultant. In 2011 I joined a practice that had a surgery as well as a trauma component. I worked really hard – we’re talking 70 to 80 hour weeks. When you’re a fresh consultant you want to take any opportunity, but I learnt that it was all about patient selection. I did three years with that group and then I decided I wanted more independence and creativity, so I opened my own consultancy around three years ago. It’s interesting, I’m known as the female plastic surgeon so people think I only have female clients, but of course I work with both men and women. I didn’t think plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery alone was enough to satisfy what people want – there’s a lot of non-surgical procedures that can help people achieve what they want, from learning how to wear make-up, to getting your eyebrows shaped and ensuring your skin looks healthy. So even though I do a lot of cosmetic surgery I also have a Medispa that offers all of the non-surgical procedures like laser therapy, skin-tightening and botox. People require a variety of solutions so we determine what is going to achieve the results they want, which often doesn’t require going under the knife. Having my own business has been fabulous and has really allowed me to explore creativity – building my own brand and creating my vision has been an exciting experience.
Being a mum and doing what I do has of course had its challenges. From an outsider looking in it may seem that women who are mothers and who are in the medical field are doing amazing things – but we all have help. That’s how we can do what we do. It’s a full time job being a mum and a full time job having a profession, so we all need help. The hardest thing is being organised so that you don’t miss the important events, the school assemblies, the concerts, the sports days. Having my own business has given me more freedom – if I need to do canteen duty I can arrange to have a client-free day. On a Friday I work at Fiona Stanley which is my public hospital day, so that’s my least flexible time. Having your own business comes with a lot more responsibilities but also with autonomy.
I believe it’s important to do what you are passionate about. Do what you want to do. It does involve taking risks, but in life anything worth having is worth taking a leap of faith. It takes courage. That’s the hardest thing. The biggest thing that stopped my initially from opening my own business, was me. I had found the location, I’d done all my research and I had the plans in place – I knew everything that I need to do – but I just couldn’t sign the lease. I was so worried it might fail. Was I doing the right thing – I had to mortgage everything my husband and I owned? Then I was with my parents, and while my Mum is super cautious and believes in security, my Dad said, ‘What are you doing? You just need the courage to do it. What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ – and it was a lightbulb moment. I love what I do, and I’d love to continue to grow the business to a point where I don’t have to worry about paying the bills because we are still relatively new. We want growth and we are always coming up with new ideas so I can inspire my staff to be the best that they can be. So many opportunities have grown from what I do, and I love my media obligations and mentoring other women. Sharing what I have learnt is so important. We can teach and train and grow and pass it all on, so why not?
Dr Anh’s Medispa aims to improve every aspect of your beauty. Her team is highly professional, talented and trained in all aspects of cosmetic procedures and treatments. They provide patients with high quality surgical procedures, wellness treatments, Medispa treatments and beauty treatments.
Dr Anh’s Cosmetic Surgery provides surgical procedures for your face, body and breasts. With over a decade of experience in plastic surgery, Dr Anh prides herself on her approachable personality that allows her to converse with her patients freely and comfortably during their consultation. She strives for perfection when it comes to your treatments and procedures and will always ensure that you are happy with your end result.
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Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
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