John Chi, MD, is an assistant professor in otolaryngology in the division of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. His areas of interest include rhinoplasty, facial nerve injury and disorders, cosmetic procedures and surgery.
Dr. Chi sees patients at:
- The Center for Advanced Medicine, 4921 Parkview Place, 11th floor, Suite A, St. Louis, MO 63110.
- The Facial Plastic Surgery Center, 1020 N. Mason Road, Medical Building 3, Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital campus. Suite 205.
Please call 314-996-3880 for an appointment.
You’ve had a very interesting path to becoming a doctor. What influenced you to take that path?
In college at Columbia University in New York City, I was a chemical engineering major. I participated in some industry research and quickly realized that it was a great field of study, but not something I wanted to pursue as a profession.
Even though I ruled out chemical engineering as a career, there was still a lot I could do with that educational background. One was to go to medical school and become a physician. I thought, that seems interesting, let me keep that in my back pocket.
While still at Columbia University, I did a lot of volunteer work with a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence. The women would leave home with their children and live at the shelter for months, maybe longer. We served as mentors and big siblings to those children. This experience led to me to my first job after college.
After graduation, I looked at my options – get a job in the pharmaceutical industry, financial sector or biomedical research. None of these choices appealed to me. At that time, New York City had a program similar to Teach for America. They recruited science and math teachers to work in underserved communities while earning a Masters degree in education; it seemed like a perfect fit.
I was in the program for two years, teaching in public schools in the South Bronx — one year of middle school science and one year of chemistry and biology at the high school level.
I was trying to get young folks who had no interest in their own education, to become interested. It changed the way I viewed my responsibilities about my own learning. It was an extremely rewarding and life-changing time of my life.
When the teaching program was finished, I decided to continue my education and applied to medical school in Brooklyn –it was an easy transition from my experiences in the South Bronx, because I wanted to continue to work and serve in an under-served community. And that is how I studied engineering, discovered my true passion and became a doctor.
How did you choose your specialty?
Early in my medical career, I was drawn to the complex aesthetics and functions of the face, head and neck. This naïve interest developed into a career and I pursued fellowship training that concentrated on cosmetic surgery as well as reconstructive surgery.
My facial plastic and reconstructive surgery training included facial aesthetic surgery, facial paralysis management, microvascular surgery, trauma surgery and post-cancer reconstruction.
I perform cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the face, head and neck; and view cosmetic surgeries as restoring patients back to a more youthful form.
What brought you to Washington University?
Throughout my training, I knew I wanted to pursue an academic position that would expose me to the entire spectrum of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. While I could have pursued a career in facial aesthetic surgery in private practice, there were other aspects that drew me to pursue a career in academic medicine.
During my fellowship, one of my focuses was facial paralysis management. It was that exposure that led my academic career in the direction of the management and treatment of facial paralysis.
Is this the aspect of your practice you find most interesting?
I would say both facial aesthetic surgery and facial reconstructive surgery are equally interesting. For someone with aesthetic concerns, his or her problems are unique to the individual’s face. Addressing the patient’s issues requires the development of an individualized treatment plan – skin care, non-surgical intervention or surgical intervention.
For someone with reconstructive problems, like a paralyzed face, even though the form is there, the function is not. He or she didn’t lose part of the face as a result of a cancer or surgery, but still have a defect that needs reconstruction.
Each patient with facial weakness or paralysis has unique and distinct problems that require a treatment plan tailored to his or her concerns. Facial paralysis is generally caused by Bell’s palsy, trauma, brain surgery or a stroke. Treatment and care focuses on restoring the form and function.
What are some of the new developments in your field?
The field of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery is being pulled at two ends of the spectrum. On one end, facial aesthetic or cosmetic surgery is pushing the limits of minimally invasive interventions for improving facial aesthetics.
The mantra in our field has become “maximize the improvement while minimize the down time”. While what we are able to achieve through non-surgical interventions continues to grow, some problems still require surgery.
Microvascular reconstruction is the other end. This type of surgery is usually very involved with an extensive period of recovery. Microvascular reconstruction is used to repair the damage that cancer, trauma or facial paralysis has caused. The interesting part, and the reason we have to have an intimate understanding of the head and neck, is we often use microvascular reconstruction to not only restore aesthetics but also function.
My fellowship director, Daniel Alam, MD, led the team at the Cleveland Clinic that performed the first US face transplant in 2009. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me to learn from someone at the forefront of the facial reconstruction field.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Maryland, outside Washington, DC. I went to college, worked and then attended medical school in New York City. I did my surgical residency training in Philadelphia and my facial plastic surgery fellowship in Cleveland. So I guess I’m from Maryland.
Is there a particular award or achievement that is most gratifying?
When I was a resident, I was awarded a humanitarian travel grant to go on a medical mission trip. If I had to pick an award, it would be that one because it allowed me to go on my first medical mission trip abroad.
During that trip we performed cleft lip and palate surgery, and facial scar surgery. That experience reaffirmed what I was doing and how I was applying my education.
I just returned from another mission trip to Ecuador in October. For me, it’s a good way to recharge my energy and my commitment.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Different people have given the same piece of advice to me in different ways. That advice was “try to attain things that you are going to be able to attain.” Meaning if you want something, get it. Or alternatively, stop wanting what you can’t get and be happy with what you have.
It leads to your own unhappiness if you constantly want something you are not trying hard enough to obtain, or simply unable to attain.
If I want something, I ask myself — am I working hard enough to get it? If that answer is yes, I am working hard enough to get it; then the next question is am I making myself unhappy by trying to have something I can’t have?
If you weren’t a doctor, what would like to be doing?
I’d be a teacher. That’s the other big draw of academic medicine — I get to teach.