With a busy new practice in her hometown of Austin, Texas, and twin boys whom she can’t get enough of, plastic surgeon Jennifer Walden, MD, seems to have it all … finally.
Walden lived in Austin for most of her life, save for 8 years spent practicing plastic surgery in Manhattan. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave the practice she built there, but it also wasn’t an easy decision to become a single mom via in vitro fertilization (IVF) at age 39, or to specialize in an übercompetitive field dominated by males.
No, Jennifer Walden is not one to take the easy way out.
Known for its laid-back, gritty vibe, Austin is a lot different from New York City.
But plastic surgery is still in demand. “I was surprised to find out that a lot of people in Austin want cosmetic surgery, too,” she says in-between surgeries. “One of my biggest fears was that I spent so many years building a busy practice in New York and I would be starting from scratch here.”
But a little marketing mojo was all it took. “I hit the ground running.”
She planned her move like she would an involved surgery. “I developed a month-by-month game plan for the physical move and the virtual online move and followed that time line,” she says.
Her plan worked: “I had patients when the plane landed.”
It wasn’t a case of, “If you build it, they will come.” “The patients came before some of the physical setup even occurred,” she says. “It’s very nice to have a turnkey situation,” she says of the office and operative suite she shares with a colleague, Jeffrey Hall, MD.
Things have been going smoothly, but, of course, it does take time to get used to new staff and a new operating room team.
Walden’s most popular procedure in Austin as well as New York?
Definitely breast augmentation with implants. “So far, I haven’t been doing as many facial cosmetic procedures, but that may be an evolution of the practice and the age of my patient demographic,” she says.
“In New York City, my top procedures were breast augmentation and rhinoplasty, and here it’s breast augmentation and augmentation/mastopexy,” she says.
And what they say about Texas is true: Everything is bigger.
“Austin women choose larger-size implants, and we see a lot more mastopexies and tummy tucks here, compared to New Yorkers.” On average, Austin women opt for implants that are 150 cubic centimeters (cc) larger than NYC ladies.
While male plastic surgery is on the rise throughout the US, Walden hasn’t seen an uptick in her new practice. This is because she has made a name, and a niche, for herself as a female plastic surgeon specializing in the aesthetic needs of women aged 25 to 45.
“Women seek out other women,” she says.
Plastic surgery is still a male-dominated field, but times may be changing. “I can see a slow evolution of acceptance of the strengths of women plastic surgeons and an attempt by the plastic surgery societies to really support women plastic surgeons,” Walden says. “They want to leverage well-spoken and well-known female role models for communications to reach the female patient.”
And plastic surgery residency programs are becoming more female-friendly. The numbers of female applicants were increasing every year at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, where Walden completed her fellowship and subsequently served as the program director.
“I don’t know that it will ever be 50/50, but given the fact that medical school classes are equilateral, we will see more female plastic surgeons,” she says. As it stands, more than 50% of Canadian and US medical students are female.”
For many women, Walden included, plastic surgery is a lifestyle choice and one that requires sacrifices, both small and large.
One of the main ones is delaying child-bearing. These sacrifices may be a little less now than when Walden was doing her residency before federal duty hour restrictions were instituted. “Nowadays, a resident can’t be on call every other night, and this offers female trainees more opportunity to have kids and be in their residency at the same time.”
Walden put off having a family to train and build a practice. Then, like many a modern woman, she chose to undergo IVF without a partner. “I could not have done that 20 years ago,” she says.
“I love the way I did it and wouldn’t change it for a minute,” she says. “I appreciate every single moment and every single milestone.”
Earlier in her career, she wouldn’t have been as established or able to provide for her sons. “Most of my free time, I want to spend with my babies,” she says. She often runs home during downtime to see them.
Walden’s pride is apparent as she discusses her sons, Houston and Rex. “They are physical, big, and loving guys. They’re hilarious.”
John Burns, MD, a plastic surgeon in Dallas, went to medical school with Walden and is not surprised by her success. “She is just really determined. She is one of those people that sets her mind on something and makes it happen no matter how big or small,” he says. Walden graduated No. 2 in her class at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
He says she makes it look easy. “Typically, women burn out from the juggling of trying to be a mom and a surgeon, but she seems to manage that very skillfully.”
But it isn’t as easy as it looks, she says. “It is very hard to do it all and do it all well,” she says. “Just like surgery,” she adds regarding raising babies, “you have to know when to ask for help.”
MOTHER KNOWS BEST
Motherhood especially has its challenges.
Walden is no stranger to sleepless nights, having done her residency before the new federal guidelines were in place, but tending to newborn twins did wreak havoc on her circadian rhythms.
“Sleepless nights kind of add up for you and your children.” She is happy to report that the boys are sleeping through the night and have been almost as soon as they arrived in Austin.
Motherhood can be a humbling experience, she says. “There is no textbook or one right answer for every problem. You just have to trust your instincts.”
And listen to your mother. Walden’s mom lives with Walden and the children in the house that she grew up in. “My mom has been a huge support,” she says. “She has become the gold standard for raising children.” (Walden’s dad passed away in 2009, and never got to meet the boys.) The mother and daughter have found comfort in each other and the twins.
Now, surrounded by family, wonderful neighbors, and a big front yard, Walden counts her blessings every single day. “This is stuff that you might take for granted, but I didn’t have it for so long.” Of her twins, she adds, “They complete me.”
Denise Mann is the editor of Plastic Surgery Practice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.