We Spoke To Plastic Surgeon Dr. Cat Chang About Rising To The Top In A Male-Dominated Industry

Photo: Catherine Chang
We Spoke To Plastic Surgeon Dr. Cat Chang About Rising To The Top In A Male-Dominated Industry

On average, women make up over 80% of all cosmetic procedure patients yet the surgeons performing these procedures are disproportionately men. 

Like in most industries, trying to make it as a female plastic surgeon poses some unique prejudices and inequalities.

But shouldn’t an industry built by female patients be a more welcoming space for women? 

Dr. Catherine Chang certainly thinks so. As a board-certified surgeon specializing in craniofacial aesthetic and reconstructive plastic surgery in one of Los Angeles’ leading practices, she has climbed over plenty of obstacles in her career. 

Working as part of a team of four inspiring and highly-regarded female plastic surgeons at Cassileth Plastic Surgery, Dr. Chang hasn't let the male-dominated industry stop her from making it to the top. 

Dr. Chang chatted exclusively to YourTango about what it takes to be an industry-changing woman in plastic surgery. 

“I actually originally wanted to be a cardiac surgeon,” Dr. Chang tells us, opening up about the early years of her career. But one surgery she observed as a medical student changed her path.

“I saw a jaw reconstruction after a bad cancer of the jaw that left the patient with no bone in the jaw. I watched as plastic surgeons performed a free flap — which involves taking bone from the leg, reconnecting the blood vessels in the face, and reshaping the bone to form the jaw. I was blown away.” 

This was part of Dr. Chang’s 16-year long journey to becoming a plastic surgeon. She pursued four years of college at Columbia University, followed by another four years of medical school there. Then six years of a residency in general surgery and plastic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania all rounded off with a fellowship in craniofacial reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at Harvard University. 

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The journey is enough to deter plenty of women — a fact Dr. Chang has witnessed firsthand during her career.

“Despite the increase in numbers of women in medical school, surgery is historically and still in the present day, a male-dominated field. And within plastic surgery, less than 18% of plastic surgeons are women,” she says, “I think there is often a double-standard all women face in a position that requires decisiveness and action.”

The pressures placed on women to work inside the home often prevents them from accessing opportunities in the workplace. Dr. Chang has seen both men and women perpetuate this gender gap. 

“Unfortunately, not only is this double-standard held by men but oftentimes women,” she tells us, “In addition to performing the same roles as men as surgeons, women are still required to be the caretakers of the family.”  

As an Asian-American, Dr. Chang’s career has also been marked by racial biases. 

“Prejudice is pervasive and the same biases that are presently reported in the media are still the same in our industry. The best advice I can give is to always act out of a high moral code and to always take the high road.”  

Confidence in her work and her ethics prevents her from letting others hold her back. “Being consistent in always trying to do the right thing will never steer you wrong,” she says, “Having a thick skin also never hurts.” 

Overcoming these stereotypes in order to become one of Beverly Hills’ most qualified and most sought-after plastic and reconstructive surgeons may not have been easy but it was certainly worthwhile. 

For Dr. Chang, being a woman in plastic surgery is not only a personal triumph but an opportunity to connect more with female patients.

“I think there is a slight advantage when you have breasts and are also subject to the same pressures placed on women by the entertainment industry and social media,” she says, acknowledging that while her male counterparts are certainly qualified, their experiences in a patriarchal world may cause them to misunderstand women’s needs at times. 

It is no surprise that Dr. Chang’s natural-looking results are renowned amongst A-list stars and Oscar-winning actresses. No name dropping here, though, that would ruin the magic.

Plastic surgery itself also faces another kind of judgment that plenty have tried to leverage against surgeons like Dr. Chang in an attempt to discredit their work.  

“There's a stigma associated with being a plastic surgeon due to a combination of reality shows that aggrandize the superficial nature of plastic surgery as well as overdone plastic surgery that is pervasive in social media,” Dr. Chang tells us. 

“Many people don't realize that plastic surgeons are the original hyperspecialized surgeons, and only the most badass general surgeons went into this field. Unbeknownst to the general public, plastic surgeons are the most technically sound surgeons.” 

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As well as having one of the lowest acceptance rates and longest residency programs, plastic surgery trains specialists to perform critical and highly technical microsurgeries and life-enhancing reconstructive procedures.

Dr. Chang also rejects the perception that plastic surgery performed purely for cosmetic purposes has a negative impact on body image. 

“I think it's more the media and photoshop, and lack of transparency of what is being performed that leads to unrealistic beauty standards rather than an issue with plastic surgery itself,” she states. 

She counsels her patients through early consultations to ensure they're pursuing procedures for the right reasons and assures us, “I will not perform any surgery on patients that I feel do not have a realistic understanding of what is possible.”  

Empowering clients to feel better in their skin is more important to Dr. Chang than any public criticisms about the merits of plastic surgery. 

“When performed for the right reasons —  which is that the patient is doing it for themselves and not for their spouse or for acceptance, I have seen a transformation in the self-esteem and confidence of that individual which is always rewarding to see.”

That is one of the dominant themes in Dr. Chang’s career: female empowerment. It can be seen in how she has risen above biases and in how she encourages female patients to do the same. 

Her own self-belief has been enough to get her over countless hurdles, she tells us.

“Being confident in myself and understanding that my work speaks for itself has allowed me to overcome different obstacles in this industry.”

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a generalist with an interest in lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.