Dennis C. Nguyen, MD, MS, is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who specializes in craniomaxillofacial reconstruction and aesthetic surgery.
For appointments, please call 314-362-7388.
What happened in the course of schooling to influence you to choose your specialty?
Growing up, I was surrounded by family members who were in the health-care field. In particular, it was my uncle, a cardiologist, who inspired me to go into medicine. He would go on medical missions and international trips. He really made a big difference in people’s lives.
I considered a few different specialties before going into plastic surgery. My research fellowship was in pediatric craniofacial surgery with two Washington University plastic surgeons, Dr. Kamlesh Patel and Dr. Albert Woo. It was that fellowship that influenced me to specialize in plastic surgery and craniofacial surgery – especially facial trauma reconstruction to restore facial features in adults.
What brought you to Washington University?
I went to medical school at University of California San Francisco, and came to Washington University for plastic surgical residency. During my time here, I appreciated the collegiality of the environment and the ability to consult with other specialists. The breadth and depth of patient care at Washington University is phenomenal, and that is what brought me back.
Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?
In addition to general plastic surgery reconstruction, my focus is on adult craniomaxillofacial surgery for primary and secondary traumatic deformities, and also facial esthetics.
I really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of my practice. Much of plastic surgery is based on principles, and I can apply those principles in different ways to solve different problems for my patients.
Each of my patients come to me with unique challenges. For instance, I have adult patients who have had cancer removed from their face or have had traumatic injuries from car accidents or ballistic gunshot types of injuries. While others consult me for facial rejuvenation and improving their appearance.
What new developments in your field are you most excited about?
Virtual surgical planning involves obtaining a CT scan of a patient’s injury – for example, a scan of the individual’s head to identify a facial injury. I then work with engineers to design a surgery to repair that injury. Free tissue transfer and microsurgery have been a core component in plastic surgery for a long time. Virtual surgical allows me to incorporate all of these tools into my practice and make it possible to restore a patient’s form and function, particularly after facial injuries.
Every injury is different. When planning surgery, we carefully take into account what is feasible to give the patient the most optimal outcome. For traumatic injuries, it can take several operations to restore the patient to where he or she was before the injury, using microsurgery to reconnect the blood supply. We are there to give our support to every patient, every step of the way, from the initial surgery to the last.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in southern California, where I lived and was educated through medical school. After medical school I moved to St. Louis for my plastic surgery residency training, spent my fellowship year in adult reconstructive/aesthestic craniomaxillofacial surgery training at Harvard, before returning to Washington University. I really enjoy and find comfort being in St. Louis.
Which particular award or achievement is most gratifying?
I received several resident teaching awards. That was very gratifying and one of the reasons I came back to the academic surgery environment. Being able to take care of patients, do research and work with trainees is extremely fulfilling.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
This advice has come along the way from many people. They have told and have shown me through their actions and the way they take care of patients. It boils down to caring for patients the same way you would take care of someone in your own family.
That process helps you understand all the other factors that might have brought that patient to your doorstep. Not only his or her medical needs, but the other social issues that might be going on in her or her life.
If you weren’t a doctor, what would you like to be doing?
I would be a chef. I like to do things with my hands. Cooking involves using principles to create a variety of items, based on basic techniques and skills we’ve learned along the way. I think my wife appreciates the fact that I can cook a thing or two.
I’ve been working on cooking Vietnamese cuisine, particularly because I am trying to learn more about my heritage. Growing up southern California, the choices were endless. I’m trying to recreate those experiences here in the Midwest!