Why You Do What You Do: Michael Howard, MD, Plastic Surgery
October 7, 2021 | 4 min. to read
Medical School: Emory University School of Medicine Residency: Georgetown University Fellowship: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Years on Staff: 2
Michael A. Howard, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon at Lake Forest Hospital. Inspired by the patients he sees every day, and by the memory of his mother’s experience with breast cancer, Dr. Howard places great importance on practicing empathy and putting his patients’ needs first.
Following undergraduate study at Illinois Wesleyan University, Dr. Howard received his medical degree from Emory University School of Medicine and completed his plastic surgery residency at Georgetown University. During his post-graduate studies, he trained with renowned pioneers in breast reconstruction John Bostwick, MD, and Scott Spear, MD. He then pursued additional specialized training by completing a fellowship in breast reconstruction and microsurgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Today, Dr. Howard’s practice focuses on reconstructive and aesthetic breast surgery. In addition to his clinical practice, he devotes significant time to education and clinical research.
Here, Dr. Howard shares what led him to become a plastic surgeon and what a privilege it is to be the most important appointment of a patient’s day.
Why did you choose to pursue a career in medicine? When I was in second grade, my teacher told me my handwriting was horrible. The story goes that I replied, without missing a beat, “That’s okay; I’m going to be a doctor.”
More specifically, I knew I wanted to be a surgeon, even at a young age. And that vision quickly came to be. I loved anatomy in junior high and high school. I applied for college and premed. Along the way, I fortunately had great mentors at just the right time and place who helped propel me to where I am. It was a true calling.
Why did you choose plastic surgery? I have a trail of great mentors I can look back on. From when I was in high school and early college, throughout medical school and beyond, I’ve always had great support. When I did my surgery rotation, I loved it. It was pretty clear that surgery was my passion. Then, I went to Georgetown and did a visiting surgery in plastics, and fell in love. The mentors in that program were a great fit as well. I matched for residency, and the rest is history.
Another part of the shaping story that makes me who I am today is what brought me here. I think I was always called to do breast surgery, and happened to have the experience of my mother going through it to shape me. She was a BRCA patient who unfortunately did not survive. But that experience helps me tell my patients that I get it, and we’re going to get through it. My mother got to see me accepted into medical school before her passing, and she’s a special part of what I do. I like to think that every day my patients are the beneficiary of my mother’s experience.
What do you find most rewarding about your job? There’s a personal satisfaction in knowing you did a really good job, and fortunately in my line of work, you get that immediate feedback. It’s like in baseball when the batter hits a home run: You notice him stop to watch the ball go out of the park before he takes his celebratory lap around the bases. In plastic surgery, we get that feeling of a job well done at the end of a case, while always shooting for better.
It’s also a privilege to join patients on their journey. It’s a spoken goal of mine to give each patient the best visit possible. Even for the simplest mole removal, that visit is quite possibly the most important thing to that patient. They’re hanging on to every word we say. So, whether it’s the most important appointment of this person’s day, week or life, it’s rewarding to realize what a privilege it is to be where I am.
What do you most look forward to in your future at NM? I am really excited about the opportunity for developing a strong relationship between downtown and the North Region. The strategy of placing highly specialized care where it’s needed is a passion of mine.
In fact, during my recruitment, I found inspiration in a shared vision, as Greg Dumanian, MD; Jeffrey Kopin, MD, CMO; and Thomas McAfee, SVP, all rallied behind the idea of bringing microsurgical reconstruction surgery to LFH, and it’s been a game changer. But that’s just the first step. I’m continually encouraged by our leadership’s willingness to grow our practice and create better access for our patients.
What do you like to do outside of your work? I love to go running and race triathlons. I’m currently training for my third time in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. When I’m not running on the lakefront or training for a triathlon, I enjoy dinner out with my wife, Melissa. We are foodies. We also keep very busy with our two children, Nolan and Madelyn.