“Becoming a doctor was expected of me as an Asian-American kid growing up with a physician as a father,” says Anthony Youn, MD, founder of Youn Plastic Surgery in Metro Detroit, Michigan, and author of In Stitches and The Age Fix: A Leading Plastic Surgeon Reveals How To Really Look Ten Years Younger. “I grew up with traditional Korean parents, and I had this vague notion that I wanted to help people, so being a doctor sounded like a reasonable path.”
Dr. Youn attended the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine unsure of which field he wanted to pursue. His father, an OB/GYN, hoped he would become a transplant surgeon, cardiac surgeon, neurosurgeon or vascular surgeon, but the younger Youn wasn’t sure these high-powered, high-stress specialties fit his upbeat personality.
Based on his early interest in art, he decided that he would prefer a specialty that allowed him to work with his hands. He initially focused on general surgery, but soon discovered that it wasn’t his calling. “I wasn’t interested in trauma or life-or-death operations, so I started working with plastic surgeons and quickly became obsessed with the field—both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery,” he says.
Plastic surgery was a career path that neither he nor his parents really knew much about. It was the mid-1990s, and plastic surgery had yet to explode into the public consciousness. “They were a little skeptical, but now they love it,” says Dr. Youn. “This field of medicine has allowed me to do so much more than just take care of patients.”
Entering the Field
Dr. Youn joined the Grand Rapids MERC Plastic Surgery Residency Program, a highly regarded program where all the residents are placed in a private practice. “After finishing residency I was fortunate enough to get a fellowship in cosmetic plastic surgery with Dr. Richard Ellenbogen in Beverly Hills, California,” he says. “He was doing so many things I hadn’t seen before, and I really fell in love with the cosmetic side of the field. The variety of patients coming through the door was fascinating, and I felt I had finally found my calling with aesthetic plastic surgery.”
As he was approaching the final month of his one-year fellowship, a new reality show called Dr. 90210 began filming in the office. “It seemed like an interesting project, but I didn’t know exactly what it would be,” says Dr. Youn. “They followed us to social events and even filmed my going away party.”
Dr. Youn had the option of staying in Beverly Hills with Dr. Ellenbogen’s practice or moving back to Michigan, and although he loved the atmosphere of L.A., it just didn’t seem like the perfect fit. “I felt the need to give back by taking care of reconstructive patients; I also wanted to raise my children in Michigan,” he says. “So I turned down the offer and moved back to the Midwest to start my own plastic surgery practice.”
Once home in Michigan, Dr. Youn took out a loan for $150,000 and moved to Rochester, a Detroit suburb, to open up his practice. The problem was, no one knew him.
“I had no patients, no money and a ton of debt, but I had this drive to succeed,” he says. “I did everything I could to get my practice going. I gave talks to dozens of organizations. I handed my business card to a different person every single day, and I tried to encourage my in-laws and anyone I knew to refer their friends to me. It was a struggle.”
Photo by Santa Fabio.