With senior year drawing to a close, Dennis Schimpf was scrambling. His college mandated he complete a certain number of volunteer hours, and he had yet to start. Now in a pinch, the college senior had under two months to squeeze in an absurd amount of work.

“You’ll need somewhere that stays open 24 hours,” his counselor quipped.

And this is how a sports-scholarship-recipient came to spend nearly all his free time in the emergency room. It was nothing short of a plot twist when he fell in love with medicine. The attraction proved so powerful that it quickly derailed pre-existing ambitions—student administration, law school, coaching. Dennis promptly enrolled in a post-bachelor’s program to complete the prerequisites for med school.

After med school and a five-year residency in general surgery, Dennis—now Dr. Schimpf—had been exposed to a host of different surgery types—cardiac, trauma, neuro. Ultimately, he found himself drawn to breadth and scope of plastic surgery. “It was one of the few disciplines where you can operate on the whole human body—from head to toe – doing facial trauma, cleft/open palate, cancer reconstruction, breast reconstruction, right on into cosmetic surgery.”

Despite his passion for it, surgery did not entirely eclipse Dennis’ other aspirations and interests. Amid an illustrious career as a surgeon, he returned to school to pursue an MBA. Armed with newfound business acumen to supplement his surgical skill, he began his own private practice, Sweetgrass Plastic Surgery in the lowcountry of South Carolina. Finding himself in the “mecca of microsurgical breast reconstruction” that is Charleston, Dr. Schimpf spent many years honing his skill in reconstructive medicine. His particular compassion for cancer patients stems, in part, from his own mother having battled a brain tumor.

Since its inception, Sweetgrass has served countless patients. In that time, Dr. Schimpf has unwittingly learned a great deal about human psychology—not only that of his patients, but their spouses and family members too. He’s handily dealt with the challenges and issues that accompany his line of work: combative spouses, a hostile perception of plastic surgery, patients with outlandish expectations as they go under the knife. Spouses and family members, he learned, tend to exhibit a sort of ‘good-intentioned hostility’ toward a loved one’s desire to get work done.

“They’re perfect the way they are.”

“They don’t need this.”

“I don’t understand why they even want it.”

Despite the aura of good intention, there is a blatant disregard for the emotional and psychological wellbeing of their loved one. If a woman feels the sting of low self-confidence when she puts on a dress, it is no one’s place to tell her she can’t take measures to mend her self-image. Ultimately, the family member’s feelings are not to be the center of focus, for either the patient or Dr. Schimpf. He specifically seeks patients who are looking to do something for themselves, not to appease others.

With a chuckle, Dr. Schimpf notes that men will often think that when a wife or girlfriend seeks cosmetic surgery, they are doing it “for” them. Oftentimes, they fail to realize that her desire to get the procedure done usually predates their involvement with him. Ultimately, it is about no one but her – her bold reclamation of body confidence, her comfort, her psychological wellbeing, her will, and her agency.

In many ways, Dr. Schimpf’s practice sheds light on the under—discussed implications of motherhood, both physical and psychological. Women are sometimes reticent to discuss how childbirth may have impacted their body confidence & sexuality, or how they often shelve many of their own needs, priorities, and pursuits after giving birth. For this reason, the decision to pursue plastic surgery serves as an empowering reclamation of female agency and body confidence. Dr. Schimpf has encountered many women who tell him, “I really shouldn’t be here. I feel guilty. I shouldn’t focus on myself, because I have children to focus on.” But as Dr. Schimpf points out, there is an entirely selfless element to this decision as well. If a long-sought cosmetic procedure nurtures her confidence, happiness and emotional wellbeing, she is creating an environment conducive to being the best mother she can be. Motherhood is, indisputably, a beautiful and gratifying experience. Dr. Schimpf’s procedures allow a woman’s external beauty to match that of the experience.

Still, not every potential patient comes to him with healthy and realistic expectations. There is a ‘screening process’ of sorts that patients undergo, and selectivity is critical. Those who come in to the center are considered for cosmetic surgery, not readily granted it. “If I ask what’s bothering them, and they say ‘Everything,’ that’s a bad answer.” He says with a laugh. Plastic surgery is not a cure-all to self-loathing; it is not terrain for the hyper-self-critical. He aims to weed out such patients, for their own good. If a person has healthy reasoning, a definable problem, a procedure to ameliorate it, and a high probability for success, he feels comfortable moving forward with surgery.

At Sweetgrass, there is a concerted effort to nurture healthy patient expectations, but people often fail to appreciate the variables and subtleties of the process. “I see people come in from [the nearby] Boeing [facility] with this sort of ‘A + B = C’ mentality, thinking it works like on their spreadsheets. They don’t appreciate that surgery and the human body don’t follow excel sheets. It’s not a black and white industry, and they have a hard time understanding that. I can usually tell, and I’ll ask, are you an accountant or an engineer?” Dr. Schimpf recounts bemusedly.

Some are tempted to call plastic surgery an art, because aesthetics and human preference are so greatly factored in. Indeed, performing and planning a cosmetic procedure is a bit like conceiving an artwork. Both surgeon and patient are collaborators, working to creative a unified vision and bounce ideas off one another. Their taste and preferences may differ, and this is why communication and collaboration are so critical. Dr. Schimpf notes that plastic surgery in the last century suffered from a more paternalistic physician-patient relationship. Patients surrendered their own agency, effectively being told what they needed, as though they were children in need of such heavy-handed guidance. Today, there is a far more evenhanded framework at play. The patient and physician engage in a healthy dialogue—about their respective hopes, doubts and expectations for the procedure. In effect, Dr. Schimpf becomes a partner, consultant and guide on the journey to body confidence and emotional health. All because he fell a little short on volunteer hours.

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