Written by Swati Iyer
Dr. Sarah Frommer is a Craniofacial and Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon, working in Austin, Texas, as a member of the Craniofacial Team of Texas. I had the wonderful opportunity of talking to Dr. Frommer about her passion for medicine, her daily life as a craniofacial specialist, and her advice to young students and caregivers. Here’s what she said:
Can you describe a typical day as a craniofacial specialist?
It depends on the day - whether I am in the clinic or the operating room. In a typical clinic day, I see families and patients that range from simple things like ear abnormalities in newborns to more complex things like cleft lip and palate. In surgical patients, there is a lot of varied care. I take care of both adults and kids, so my OR can run from 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM or later.
What are the most common craniofacial issues that you tend to see?
I see a lot of neonatal ear deformities. It is very common for newborns to come out with floppy ears, related to maternal circulating estrogen. To help fix this, I use ear molding techniques to guide the ear into a proper shape, so that down the road, children will not have ear abnormalities requiring surgery. Another common condition is plagiocephaly, an abnormal head shape. When the head shape does not improve, pediatricians refer the babies to us, so that we can rule out craniosynostosis, a condition in which the sutures fuse. Craniosynostosis is the second most common craniofacial condition, following cleft lip and palate.
What is your favorite part of your day?
I love working with kids. Little kids come in to see me, and I love being able to help them. I also enjoy working with parents and being able to talk and counsel them about their child’s condition. They feel grateful that I take the time to speak with them and counsel them.
Why did you choose to become a doctor, and what drew you towards this specialty?
After high school, I had ambitions to become a cartoonist, but after being accepted into biomedical engineering on a scholarship, I decided to pursue engineering. I enjoyed my studies but felt that I wanted to be able to put the devices I was building into people, which led me to pursue an MD-PhD program. I had always thought that I would end up practicing dermatology or dermatology surgery, but when a friend of mine suggested plastic surgery, I was compelled. After completing a significant toe transfer, in which the great toe was transplanted to become a thumb, I knew I wanted to go into plastics. Plastics are more than just tummy tucks and breast implants; it is a vast field, ranging from head to toe, for all ages. I further studied to become specialized in pediatrics because these cases involved more delicate surgeries and had large impacts on kids’ lives.
Do you have any words of wisdom for children who want to follow in your footsteps?
Love what you do. People tend to think that doctors make a lot of money, but this is not why you should pursue this career. Think about what makes you happy and what your skills are. The journey into medicine is long - it took me 21 years, so be sure it is something you want to do. Also, I suggest going out into the world and experiencing life. Between my 3rd and 4th year of medical school, I traveled internationally to do global work in places like India, Israel, Guatemala, and Tanzania, and I was excited how the medical team came together to take care of patients despite all of their differences.
Any words of advice for caregivers of children with craniofacial disorders?
Don’t treat your kid as if they are different or as if something is wrong with them. Treat them like you would treat their brother or sister or any other child. It is important for kids to grow in healthy, strong support systems, because it helps them to improve their self-esteem and how they view themselves; kids pick up on the subtle differences in behavior.