Hello, and welcome to Beauty and the Biz where we talk about the business and marketing side of plastic surgery, and how Doctor Chong went from being a commodities trader to becoming a surgeon.
I’m your host, Catherine Maley, author of Your Aesthetic Practice – What your patients are saying, as well as consultant to plastic surgeons, to get them more patients and more profits.
Now, today’s episode is called “Commodities Trader to Surgeon — with Lavinia K. Chong, MD”.
Even when you knew you wanted to be a surgeon since you were a kid, the road to get there was bumpy and full of twists and turns.
But when you don’t know yet what you want to be when you grow up, the road is even bumpier.
⬇️ Click below to hear “Commodities Trader to Surgeon — with Lavinia K. Chong, MD”
This week’s Beauty and the Biz Podcast is an interview I did with Lavinia Chong, MD, a 2nd generation board-certified plastic surgeon in private practice in Newport Beach, CA.
Dr. Chong has a lovely English accent since she was born in London, and her father was a plastic surgeon who then brought the family to America for opportunity.
However, Dr. Chong initially wanted to be a flight attendant, but instead became a commodities trader BEFORE she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps.
But even then, she took the long path of becoming an ER doc, doing maxillofacial, worker’s comp, MOHS, and breast reconstruction….all while raising 2 kids with her very hands-on husband.
She eventually went 100% cosmetic 15 years ago and hasn’t looked back.
Dr. Chong also credits yoga that helped/helps keep her sane 😀
👁 DON’T MISS THESE INTERVIEWS 👁
Commodities Trader to Surgeon — with Lavinia K. Chong, MD
Catherine Maley, MBA: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Beauty and the Biz, where we talk about the business and marketing side of plastic surgery and how Dr. Chong went from being a commodities trader to becoming a surgeon I’m your host, Catherine Maley, author of “Your Aesthetic Practice, What Your Patients Are Saying”, as well as consultant to get you more patients and more profits.
Now, today’s guest is Dr. Lavinia Chong, who went from being a commodities trader to becoming a surgeon, and she’s a second-generation board-certified plastic surgeon in private practice for the past 20 years in Newport Beach, California, where she grew up.
Now, Dr. Chong lived and trained in Mexico before transferring to the Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Boy, that’s a culture shock.
And then did a five-year general surgery residency in University of California, San Diego. She then completed a three-year residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Plastic Surgery. Now, Dr. Chong belongs to several medical societies and is a mega yoga enthusiasts. You’ll see her on her website. She’s knowing what she’s doing there.
So, welcome to Beauty and the Biz, Dr. Chong. It’s a pleasure to have you on Beauty and the Biz.
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I’m very honored to be here.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Oh, you know, what’s throwing me off is, how did you pick up an accent when you were, you grew up in Newport Beach, but you’ve traveled a lot. So, where did that come from? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I was born in London, so, I’m actually a Cockney. My father was training at St. Bartholomew’s, which is one of the London teaching hospitals. We lived there for many years, and then he decided he’d emigrate to America at a time when there were, there was a need for recruitment of foreign medical graduates. So, we spent five years in Philadelphia and then we ended up in Newport Beach.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Wow, you ended up in a very nice part of the United States. Did you, and it’s so, nice that you came from Philadelphia to here because then you really appreciate it. I think it would be so, tough to go from California to Minnesota or to Philadelphia, you know, just from weather, you know. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Absolutely. My dad was a, was a, was a pretty sharp cookie and he was he was looking for opportunities.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Good for him. And so, did you always want to be a plastic surgeon like he did or did some big moment in your life happen? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I wanted to be a flight attendant because I was a I was a language major in college.
And I said, I came to my father and he says, no, our people don’t do it. I actually finished up I finished high school early. I spent a lot of time at an undergrad at UC Irvine. Then I went to UCLA for a year, dossing around in public health. And I’m like, I really am not getting this. So, I went to England and I dropped out of formal education.
And so, what was the call to action was I worked for about three and a half years as a commodities broker. I sold financial futures on the London international financial futures exchange.
Catherine Maley, MBA: The jungle, you know, jungle, I can’t imagine what did, did you like it? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Oh, it’s great. It’s a great opportunity for young people.
You made, you, you feel like you’re really in the thick of things. This is a day before you have a lot of the computer trades and when I worked for a company and they, they, we made masses of money, which is great. When you’re young, it’s a, it’s a great, very, very convivial lifestyle. But I think in the long run, you know, you either end up retiring army and you have laryngeal nodules or you have some odd devices.
So, I thought I would go back and. And my dad said, well, good luck to you. No one’s going to take you because you’re a mature student and you might go to Mexico. So, I did. Did you like it? It was interesting because, backing on my language, I was able to pick up the, the translation pretty quickly and I became the, one of the class scribes because I could understand the language and so, I took all the notes for the class and I told my newly community.
newly acquired husband that we would, we would transfer back in one semester, but I got, I had three semesters up there and then I transferred back. So, it was interesting.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Now, and, and amongst all of that going on, you also ended up having two kids. One or two? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: That was after I got into general surgery residency.
I had one in general surgery residency and one in plastic surgery residency.
Catherine Maley, MBA: I think that’s insane. I don’t know how you women; a lot of you women are doing that. I don’t get it. I, I don’t get it. How do you balance that? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Sometimes you, sometimes like they say a blind pig gets an acorn, so, you know, you have to, timing is never right in a lot of the You know, we wanted to, we wanted to have children and we fell pregnant and that was it.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Did you get any sleep those years? I’m, I’m a, I’m a bit of an older trainer. So, five years of general surgery was what was requisite, what was requisite for plastic surgery in my time. And, you know, the hours we worked were longer because that was just what was done, you know, so, I had two weeks for maternity leave for my general, in general surgery for my son and I had three weeks for my daughter and plastic surgery residency. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: So, you learn to, you learn to deal with what you, what you’re given.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Wow. Would you do it any differently? if you could do it again? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I mean, because I was a mature student, I had a certain kind of time ticking with me because, you know, fertility goes down after a certain age for a woman. And so, you know, I am very lucky to have had a great husband who picked up the picked up the baby hatchlings and just took care of them after I went back to work.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Yeah. And your husband’s not hard to look at either, you know, good job there. Yeah. And he’s handy with the children. You can’t ask for any more than that. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Yeah, just, just very good, creative, good son, best friend.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Oh, so, glad to hear that. Now did you go into private practice or did you go into academia right away? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
How did you, what was your trip, what was your journey to private? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Well in the sort of spring of my senior year at Galveston, you know, I informed my father I thought I might want to come back to Orange County and he said, good, have you, have you got a job set up? And I go, no, I thought I was going to come home and you’re going to pay me a stipend.
To which he responded, no. So, that was sort of a pivotal time when my father first came to Orange County, he was one of, like, five plastic surgeons in town. And I think at last count, there probably, we’re probably over 150 right now. Of course, you are. So, you know, he was, he was one of the old guards.
So, I think in a sense, he said, go away and see if there’s anything else you like better. Yeah, I make sure that this is something that you’re really coming to with your eyes open. So, I went off and I looked, I interviewed and I came home.
Catherine Maley, MBA: He’s the old school parenting. I had that as well. I, I miss that. I think I; you know, you really learn who you are and, and your pain tolerance and how much stronger you are than you think you are. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: You know, I think it’s, I think it’s important to know that in any kind of business and marketing, what you want and what you need are two different things. And you really have to have a good sense of who you are and what’s going to work for you.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Right. Did you go into Recon and did you try to balance both Recon and Cosmetic or are you just Cosmetic? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
What’s your percentage? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: You know, for the first, for the first A couple of years I was straight. I was an ER doc. I worked three ER panels. I took everybody who’s called who would give it to me. You know, I did, I did maxillofacial trauma and then I got into the workman’s comp thing and I did a bunch of hand surgery.
And I, then I was offered a position on a managed care group. And so, I became a breast cancer reconstruction surgeon and I did. And I was starting to see a bit of cosmetic but I was doing mostly bread and butter. Mohs chemo surgery repairs, some more maxillofacial, bed sores, and a lot of the, the basic breast reductions, which I think I still love to do nowadays, but I think at the end of the day, When I had a requisite following and I, I do, I do go over and look at my, my database from time to time and just see who’s coming in the door, what, what they’re asking for.
And I, after I had that critical mass, I said, okay, I’m out. I’m not going to do that anymore. So, I’ve been 100% cosmetic for about 15 years now.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Oh, good for you. Was that a tough decision to make? Did you starve the first like year or two to get the no, not really? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I mean, I’d been drafting and building in the cosmetic and then what I think was hardest was Letting go of my breast cancer reconstruction patients, because I think in a sense, when you travel with a woman through a year of building a breast, you oftentimes see women who are my age or maybe even younger, and you have that sort of sense of empathy and say, Hey, my life could be a lot worse.
And they inspire you to get some better, more innovative solutions to their problems.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Do you think it was helpful that you were a female plastic surgeon working with these females? Because talk about an emotional journey. I mean, cosmetic patients are emotional, but in a fun way. Breast, breast reconstruction is serious, emotional handholding.
Did you think that helped, you know, you being a woman? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I do. And I think it’s also, I give credit to my office because we had, you know, we’d have people who just sit in the chair and cry for an hour. And the thing is, you know, and, you know, after I gave him a hanky and said, Yeah, I, I know it’s a scary thing, but here’s where we’ll start, and we’ll start, and we won’t always get there on one thing.
So, I, I think in a sense, to have that patience and to have the staff who would hold, hold the appointments longer for me, that, that gives, I would definitely give credit to the whole team to, to know that, okay, here’s a breast cancer reconstruction. Sorry, I, I can’t do the Botox today because I’m going back to the ER because I’ve had a problem.
Things like that.
Catherine Maley, MBA: It’s very difficult to juggle the two of them and do it well. You know, you’ll often alienate somebody there. So, absolutely. Yeah. So, all right. So, you walked away from that. I will tell you though, in California I’ve been at this for a long time, quite a few of the doctors were building ORs.
At the time workers comp was handling breast reduction very you know lucratively and in the middle of them building out these, you know, 6 million projects they shut that down. You know, like there just wasn’t the, the reconstructive reimbursement like there was. And I mean, boy, you, you know what, no matter what you’re doing, there’s something could side blind, blindside you, you know, whether it be government regulations, whether it be the economy, you just never know.
Have you found that to be challenging, trying to figure out what your next move is with things going on externally? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I think so. I mean, I probably would say to you, I read more. I read the news online. I try to, try to talk to my colleagues and say, is this something specific or do I, or is this just some bad journalism that’s making, to make your coronary squeeze?
But I think there’s one thing that’s certain, change is inevitable and you’re going to have to put some energy in there and you, and you may have to, to abandon old sacred cows because you, you cannot do the same thing that you did at the beginning of your career. There’s, there’s a whole life cycle to surgeons, to businesses, to, to even ideas.
And so, we’re, we’re changing and that’s, that’s the one constant in life. And, and it’s, it’s difficult to change for some people, but you know, I’ve, I’ve tried to bob and weave to keep on that.
Catherine Maley, MBA: And you have to because a lot of the surgeons think, no, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m leaving soon anyway.
I’m just going to go stay status quo. And the world will walk all over you. You, you can’t even stay status quo. You have got to, to change with things. You don’t have to do major, major, but Boy, you’ve got to go where the patients are going, where they’re, where they’re going for their information how they want to be worked with or talked to or consulted with.
Things are changing quickly, aren’t they? Dear Lord. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: You know what? It just means that you have to dig down deeper and find some tools in your toolkit. And then, I mean, there’s some things I don’t do in cosmetic surgery because I just don’t want to do them. But, like what? I don’t do a lot of prison and butler.
Catherine Maley, MBA: So, I know you’re going to say that. Yeah, I hear you. It’s a different crowd. It’s a different, it’s just a different animal. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Yeah. Other things I don’t think, you know, realistically, if I don’t have my heart in it, I can’t, I can’t do a great job.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Yeah, I understand. The regarding staff, you have this triple A. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
What is your triple A staff stand for? Able, available, and affable. I love that. They need to be, they need to know what to do. They need to be on the sites, and they have to be nice. Because nice is, is, it does nothing if you’re not, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
How do you get them to do that? I am struggling with that in quite a few practices that I don’t know what the staff, I don’t know I just innately knew customer service, like be nice to people, and be friendly, and be enthusiastic, because I’ve got that down.
Thanks so, much. But I just took that for granted. I thought everybody was like that. And then I go into these practices and I think you literally have the patient deterrent department working for you, you know? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Well said. I mean, I think in a sense, my father didn’t give me that, that, that knowledge because he had one girl Friday, he has a series of per diem scrub texts and things were done a lot differently in the seventies and eighties.
So, you know, that was my first job to get the, the office accredited when I came out of residency. And my response was, I don’t know how to do that. And he, he replied to me, you’ll learn. I love you, dad. Yeah. So, I mean, I was like, okay. I think in looking for staff, I’ve looked for people who would be not threatening to patients, because I think when patients come in, They’re nervous, they’re worrying about what’s it going to look like, who’s going to look after me, how much does it cost, do I have the trust issue, will it be somebody I know and they’re going to gossip about me, so, I mean we’ve, we’ve, we’ve had a number of iterations but what I’m so, happy about, because like most surgeons I hate to retrain, I’ve had pretty much got stable staff for quite a long time now, even after COVID or before COVID.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Oh! What’s your secret? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I talk to people a lot, and I ask people, I’m like, what do you think? You know, do you think this is where we should be going? We, we, we have a lot of meetings, and we, we break it up a bit. And, and when I, when I have something that’s bothering me, I really talk to people up, up, up front.
And I go, look, this has been creeping me out, and I, I would really like you to help me do this, this, and this. If, can you, do it? If you can do it, that’s great. And if you don’t want to do it, tell me why.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Peace.
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: It’s not always easy to be a female boss because I’ve grown into that role over the years.
Catherine Maley, MBA: That’s why I’m asking. Females definitely, and I don’t, I don’t want to pull the gender card at all, but you need to be a tough boss, yet a compassionate boss. Like the women, there’s a bigger balance there. Women working with women. We are hard on each other. I don’t know what that’s all about, but we are. So, if you can balance that good for you, are you really good at hiring? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Do you have some secret tips for hiring the right people? Cause that’s half the battle, just getting the right people on there on the board.
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I mean, I’ve, I’ve gone through the typical routes. I was very lucky sometimes. Like I say, luck has a lot more to do with ability because in COVID, we closed for about six weeks and then we came back and we added an extra operating day because people couldn’t travel and they would look at those faces on zoom and go like, I need something.
So, having my own office based surgical suite, it made it very convenient and safe. You know, basically my chief, my, my per diem nurse decided to retire in July. So, I just put, I put out ads on zip recruiter and LinkedIn and indeed, and I got a wonderful little nurse. And then when she said, this is more than I can handle.
I put, I put the ads out again, but I think it was the, I would like, I would like to think it was the authenticity of the ad that I placed. People came in and said, yeah, that’s pretty much what you asked for. Yes, I can do that.
Catherine Maley, MBA: That good for you because people were really struggling to find nurses. They couldn’t even do surgery half the time because they didn’t have enough staff.
So, I don’t know how you did that, but that’s fantastic. Let’s talk about your surgical suite for a second. Had you always had that or built that out recently? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: No, that was, that was something my dad always had, and he’s the original tenant in this, in this office building. My husband is actually a very talented architect, and he’s done a lot of surgical suites for my competitors in town.
And they are gorgeous. And he does dentistry and veterinarian, but he knows the codes very well. And so, we’re a terrific cross pollination, because he’ll ask me, well, where do I need to put this? And so, I’m like. I don’t know anything about reproductive endocrinology, but I can find out a few. So, what we have is we have a surgical suite where we have, we don’t, we do a low volume and I like to think a high quality because my direct employees are the nurses and the scrub tech.
I have a cadre of anesthesiologist, MD anesthesiologist. And I do use some CRNAs and our practice consultant is a great lady who gets everybody scheduled and put together. But we don’t do any general anesthesia. So, we do everything under a heavy MAC, which is, which is primarily predicated on the fact that this is an older office building.
I don’t have adequate ventilation for scavenging. And if there was an issue that I needed to, to treat with, I would be able to have the anesthesiologist. stop the propofol, wake them up in theory, and just run them down the stairwell. So, so, I mean, it’s all for patient safety. We still have a general anesthesia machine.
We have all the, the accoutrements that the licensure requires. We have regular drills. But we find that the monitored anesthesia care allows the patients to recover a little bit quicker. For when I’m doing facelifts, I don’t have a tube to stent the trachea. I don’t have to worry about extubating the patients.
You know, our rates of post operative nausea and vomiting, although not zero, are very, very low.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Do you find that the patients like that option? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Because, I mean, I think in a sense with social media and reality TV, they see everybody going like this when they are on, on reversal, and mostly people wake up and they go, have we started?
I’m like, no, we’re done. Right? So, it’s a much gentler transition when they come back up again. So, yeah.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Now what, what, what is it called? Is it like twilight, like a colonoscopy, or what kind of anesthesia? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: It’s pretty much, it’s pretty much propofol. I, I, I leave it to the anesthesia providers to take care of it, but we also do put local in and the local buffers, the whatever they do in the.
First said, or some benzos and maybe some, a little bit of tiny bit of fentanyl, but it’s very timely because right now with the, with the fentanyl crisis, people are really scared about opioids. And so, you know, I’ve had husbands call me up and go, you gave my wife 10, 10 Norco. I’m like, she’s not going to overdose, but they’re, they’re really terrified.
And when they go. You gave my wife Norco intraoperative. I’m like, I gave her 25 mikes, but they just want to know that their wives are going to be safe. Now, when they know that it’s just local and propofol, obviously with the, with the Jackson, Michael Jackson death, there was some controversy over propofol, but it is a, it’s a wonderful medicine, which is very powerfully anti-nausea genic.
It’s out of the system probably in about 48 hours. And it, and it really makes people incredibly. Comfortable as a, as a sedative hypnotic,
Catherine Maley, MBA: I’m all for that. I had general and it was the worst experience. And I thought if you want me to get up and walk out of here, don’t give me general. I’m sicker than a dog.
I don’t know what I’m doing. Like I’m a train wreck. And I do you think, are you, is that different for you? Is that a good differentiator for you in Newport beach or is everybody doing that now? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I think there are increasingly more people who are doing things like my colleagues who do the light lift, where it’s mostly IV, either IV sedation or IM with some oral sedatives, because there, there’s a, now a, a great development of things like I would call them designer drugs.
MKO melts, Midazolam Ketamine and Ondansetron, which is a tablet which is put underneath the patient’s tongue. The small procedures, you can do that if the patient’s particularly nervous and it puts them a little bit dissociated. So, I mean, I do a lot of stuff under local because we do talk a seizure to just to have to stop, help the people and just say, no.
Just a little squeeze here, just a little stick and burn. And again, people love the idea that they’re saving. It’s safe, number one. Safety is number one. Two, that they don’t have to pay for the anesthesiologist. Three, that they, they, they can participate a little bit, because we do eyelid lifts on the local.
We do sliding brow pexies, upper lip lifts. And so, these are things that are not particularly uncomfortable. And you, you don’t have to put people to sleep with that.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Very nice. And I like it as a marketing edge, you know the patients are waking up to that. That’s, oh, that’s a pun. They’re they, if they don’t have to go under, under and under general we’ve all, we’ve all heard the stories and that’s all it takes is some celebrity story.
The, the poor woman that Asian author or something died and. In New York and like nobody wanted to go under general. They were canceling all their surgeries. It’s just nice to have that option. So, good for you. Regarding staff, do you have, like, what’s your feeling on surgical versus non-surgical? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Are you just a surgeon? Do you also want to grab that patient on the way up to surgery or take them on the way down from surgery to non-surgical? What’s your feeling? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: A lot of my, my patients start as, as young. Mothers and their, their, their budget and their aims are on Botox, and then maybe they’ll graduate to eyelids, and then a couple of them will then go to switching out their breast implants, you know, because they say, like, this worked for me when I was 20, but my 15-year-old son keeps saying, cover that up, mom.
So, I mean, it’s the whole life cycle of a patient. you know, I’m happy to travel with them because I’m like, well, I keep waiting for my boobs to come in, but they’re, they’re obviously not going to come in this lifetime. So, you know, we have a lot of fun. We just, we, it’s like, For me, it’s like, I like going to work because I’m having a lot of gossip with my patients, so, I, I do a little Botox, I, you know, I learn about trends from them too, because they’ll say to me, well, what about this?
What do you think about this? I’m like, I don’t really know what this is. So, you know, they, they are my way to kind of to filter what people are interested in learning about.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Yeah. So, regarding your growth, do you want to stay small? Do you want to grow? Do you want to bring on an associate so, you can slow down eventually? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Do you have an exit strategy? What’s your feeling? Are you going to die at the table, like some surgeons? Or do you have a plan to exit and still have some time to travel? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I mean, I think the thing is, My husband wants to travel. And so, I’m actually actively recruiting a couple of associates, but I think it, you know, I would need to have somebody who could really be able to take advantage of the accreditation and to be able to feel comfortable working in this, this environment because it’s small, but the thing is, it’s got everything it needs for patient safety and it’s got a killer view of the ocean.
So, I mean, Can’t, can’t you learn to accommodate? We already have the relationships with, with wonderful anesthesia providers. I can’t always guarantee that the staff would go to a successor, but if they, if they treat them well, who knows? I have a young staff and the staff are very good at what they do.
And they’re very kind and genuine to the patients. And that’s why we are, we usually get a lot of internal referrals. We don’t do a lot of advertising, but the patients just drag their friends.
Catherine Maley, MBA: I’ve always said, that’s how you do it. You can do it the harder way, doing the one and done. Throw a ton of money at advertising, where your staff out trying to find that needle in a haystack of the 100 leads and two of them actually want surgery, or you can just really change your mindset, treat that patient as somebody you’re going to know for a lifetime and you will, you could know them for a lifetime.
I am one of those patients. I’m worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Please to somebody because as you get older, if you care about how you look, you’re going to keep caring even a lot more as the aging process steps in and the social trends change, and all of the arrows are, are like, the demand is not going anywhere.
It’s just increasing. So, I just don’t see why most. I just don’t see why you don’t do it that way. Like, why not build a word-of-mouth practice, the patients love you. Talk about a consultation. How do you like doing a consultation with a complete stranger, who doesn’t know you from Joe Schmo, versus the patient who comes from her sister, who loved her result.
She showed it off to her, the other sister and said, Oh my God, I want what she has. Isn’t there the biggest difference between that? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: You’re definitely pre-qualified if you come from an internal referral. Yeah. But, you know, with telemedicine, like we’re doing today. I get a chance to be myself, like yesterday I talked to a young woman and I said, I asked my staff, please schedule virtual consults at the end of the day, because again, I can spend as much time with them and they can pick my brain as much as they want to and I can keep talking till they go zip it.
But the thing is, I see in the sense of a consult, I’m not looking at my clock all the time because My job as a consult, as a consultant, is to really try to give them as much of information that I think they would need to know, and they might not know the questions to do it, so, I still have the same vibe with that, but the thing is, the virtual consults have been fun for me, because I’m like, I don’t have to care about if I, if I smell like I’ve been in the OR, which I have usually been, or if my hair is not perfect, because I’m like, you know, What do you want to talk about today?
I’ll keep talking until you tell me. Time out.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Regarding marketing, where are these patients coming from? Are you, do you have a big net out to the world or are you trying to stay local or what’s your marketing plan? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Good question. I had the girls pull out procedure value hour, how long it takes me to do a case, and what thing, I had them look at referral sources, and how many people were doing these things, and we had, and how many conversions we had from people.
virtual consultations versus in consults, and it used to be about 50 50, but I’m actually converting more on virtual consults now. No kidding. Which is crazy, but I think I’m, I am pretty much what I am, what you see is what you get, whether you’re looking at me on the, on the screen or whether you’re, you’re smelling the fact that I’d be in the office and stuff like that.
So, I mean, I think what we’re doing is we’re trying to codify it a little bit more. And that’s where I think in the stuff, we’re about ready to ramp up and bring another administrative stuff because that my women have different talents. I have one woman who’s extremely all about the metrics and I think you have to.
As a, as a provider of service, look critically at what you do, what you do well, if it takes you 12 hours to do a facelift, maybe you shouldn’t be doing facelifts. If you, if you have a lot of take backs for bleeding from, from breast augs, maybe you shouldn’t be doing breast augs or something like that.
But things, we do a lot of that and we look at it quarterly. So, that’s part and parcel of our marketing strategy to see how many. Procedures we’ve done if it’s a particular type, whether there’s been any problems with complications and that that goes along hand in hand with the, with the credentialing we have to do for the facility, and then where the new leads come from, and we track everything in that sense.
So, I think before we can actually go and do much further as a solo practitioner, I don’t want to compromise outcomes by doing it. Thank you. a larger volume. I would rather be, consider myself a bespoke tailor. I’ll be more of somebody who’s rather than forever 21.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Okay. Well, and know thyself. If, I mean, as long as I just think it’s all about you being comfortable with what you’re doing and the services you’re providing.
And if you’re, I completely agree, I would pick the procedures that you enjoy doing the most. And then if you want to look at it analytically, Just pull that report that says revenues by, revenues by procedure, revenues by zip code, revenues by referral source, and just make your life easier. It’s always going to be that 80 20 rule, you know, 80% of your revenues are coming from 20% of somewhere.
The secret is knowing where the somewhere is. A lot of times you just don’t even know anymore, but you know what they’ve made, they forced us into all this technology, which is so, mind blowing that they, they can track everything now. They, every click, every, every, every little thing you’re doing can be tracked.
So, I’m glad you have an analytical person in there because somebody needs to want to do that. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Yeah. And she, she’s, she’s good. She works with the website and I mean, we do, we dabble in a bit in social media, but mostly you see what I like to eat or I travel.
Catherine Maley, MBA: I was going to ask you about social media because it’s, you’re not, and you can tell you’re not.
You’re doing a little of it, you know, that’s why I know your husband, I love your husband. And you can, and the travel looks fantastic, but is it part of your plan or you’re just kind of doing it because you’re supposed to do it? Or do you think it’s a, a viable marketing channel for you? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I don’t think it’s; I don’t think it’s.
It’s, it’s our prime lead. Because I think we have a different patient population about a year and a half, two years ago, I asked the girls, I asked them, who is my ideal patient? I really knew the answer at that time. And who is it? It’s, it’s usually a woman who’s between 45 to about 65. And, you know, there’s a certain amount of history between us.
We, like I said, we’ve come from med spa services to doing smaller procedures than going up there. And that’s why we, we tend to, our two big leaders are probably eyelids, facelifts and revisional breast and some breast reductions. You see, because I’m not super judgmental. I, my, my father was never much of a breast man.
You know, I, I loved, I like to do breasts. I like to do a lot of breast lifts and breast reductions and just seeing how things change and aesthetic ideals are replaced from the Pam, Anna Nicole Smith and Pamela Anderson’s from the late 90s, early 2000s, and now we’re looking at the yoga breasts and that’s my specialty, so, because the women are more like me and I think we end up having people who like to stretch and like to, I realize they’re getting older, but they’re okay with that.
And they just say like, you know, I just want to comfort my body. I just don’t want to have to have something that, you know, I have to get, spend a lot of time getting dressed on. So, we’re a little bit more laid back in that sense. So, that’s why I don’t really go for the Brazilian butt lifts. And I don’t want to, I don’t want to look at people’s privacy.
Catherine Maley, MBA: But that that demographics amazing, like 45 to 65 females. I love the older woman. She’s more mature. She cares about your skill and certifications. And yeah, more so, than, you know, did I, did they see you online? They have the financial wherewithal oftentimes more so, than the younger person, but you don’t like tummy tucks. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I do, and that’s my other little tiny, tiny niche one, because I do have marriage tummy tuck, tummy tuck, so, through the size of a small c section scar. You can, I can actually advance it a little bit more, and I do love toys, so, I bought myself a Hoyer’s retractor, which is literally a big, a big upper hand, and so, I can go through a very small incision for people who don’t have a lot of skin, they’re not heavy, but they’ve got mostly that splay in their belly that gives them that roundness there.
We can go through. Detach the belly button and then just repair it, put the belly button down and keep the scar really small. So, that’s my, my favorite.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Wait, wait, whoa, whoa, whoa. So, they don’t need that hip-to-hip smile line? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: But it’s, it’s, it’s all patient selection in this valley. So, it’s, if they’re, if they’re a big woman, that we’re going to lipo the flanks.
We’re going to go from hip to hip. But these are the smaller ones. We had a nice lady who came and did telemedicine yesterday and I, I was very relaxed and she booked today. So, I said, look, she goes, I said, what bothers you? She goes, I have a depressed portion of my C section scar. I’ve had three kids and it makes me embarrassed.
And I’m like, What have you got to be embarrassed? You have an awesome body, you’ve got good, even skin, you don’t have any stretch marks, but you’ve got that little central pooch around your belly button, and it goes a little bit up there by your ribs, it’s good. All you need is just to repair the muscle, pull it down a little bit, done.
Catherine Maley, MBA: If you want my two cents, a scar less, tummy tuck, like I would write a little guide book on it, give it away as a free pdf guide use it as an opt in on your webpage the, the scarless tummy tuck guide five things you want to know about it. I mean, if Everybody who wants a tummy tuck doesn’t get one because of that darn big scar.
And at that point, you’re not saying it’s for everybody, but here like download this, and this is how this is the perfect candidate. I would make a big deal out of that because you’re in such a competitive area and a ton of women who want something done without that scar. God, I think that’s a big, I think you’re onto something there. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I mean, it is, it is, it is. Because I’m small and lazy. I hate to lipo a lot, spider to Brazilian butt lifts. But you could do and we’re, I mean, we’ve done, we did one two weeks ago and she just looks fantastic and she’s at the length of the scar. We can control, but it’s mostly like we’ve learned with whether it’s deep lane or smash, it’s putting the foundation on the deeper layer.
Yeah. And then the skin just. populates over it. But the, I mean, if you selected and you’re very honest with the patients and go like, you know, you wouldn’t be a good candidate because you have just that much more skin. But it’s, it’s been, it’s worked out well for me.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Oh, I love it. So, we’re going to wrap it up now.
Tell, give me a big challenge you had when you were growing your practice. What was the biggest challenge you had? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: I think, I think the big challenge is, is going from girl to woman, woman to boss, and that is a gender specific, specific problem, because I joined an intergenerational practice, so, I still have my mom telling me like, Why are, why are breasts so, big?
But it was a different, different sort of cultural mindset. And then for being able to jump and have the, the courage or maybe the foolhardiness to go ahead and drop off, drop off of insurance and become straight Cosmo. That was, that was a leap of faith. But I’ve had a lot of good people helping me along the way.
My husband, my staff. You know, I have some good friends in town who are plastic surgeons, you know, and general surgeons who, you know, I talked to and I’m like, well, where do you think this is going? But it’s really to, to, to try to be fairly open minded and to have self-knowledge and to know what you can do and what you can do well and what you should step away from.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Right. And then is there anything in particular that you would say to anybody coming up in the industry? Maybe any advice for them? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Yeah, don’t build a Taj Mahal before you have the requisite patients in place. Yeah. Because, you know, there have been, in 2003 I was the program chairman for plastic surgery at Hogue.
And I think I, I call myself mother of plastic surgeons, because I think I signed on 12 plastic surgeons in a year. And some of them are no longer here. So, I mean. There’s, there’s, this is a gorgeous place and there’s always a place for you to sit down and make a little farm but you have to be good to the patients and to your staff and to yourself and your family because if you’re cranky pants it’s, it’s going to come through and people will, will like I’m not going there because, you know, she’s, she’s too self-possessed, pest possessed so, I mean, I think you just have to know what you can, I’ll tell young people, you have to sometimes eat what you kill.
But you have to be able to know that you don’t have to eat a lot. You, you have to know what your running costs are and, and just, you know, not be shy to say, like I, that’s not something that’s in my, my experience. I would have to defer to you and to be very honest, because that’s how you build a practice.
Right. How much has yoga helped you? Is that still a big part of your life?
Oh yeah, I do four classes a week and I don’t do, I don’t do the hot yoga like my daughter likes because my husband does, goes with me and he doesn’t want to sweat the smell of other people’s beer. But it started after my father died because he, he fell down.
The thing is, I used to think that yoga was important for the meditative, the sort of reflective capacities, but it’s really important for balance, and it is my go-to drug instead of drinking. I’ll take it out of work because, I mean, I, I look around and, and if you ever think about it, who takes care of the plastic surgeon?
Someone’s going to be taking care of you because I get so, much so, much little vignettes and life perceptions from my yoga teachers. I’m like, okay, I’m good. I’m going to steal that Yeah, so, I mean, it’s made me very happy.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Ah, I did yoga several times and I just don’t have the personality for it I tried the hot yoga.
I thought it was disgusting. Yeah, we were all like, like their feet are in my face. I just couldn’t do that. I couldn’t concentrate because it was so, gross. And then I’ve tried the regular yoga and I just don’t have, I just have, I don’t know if I have ADD or what, but I hate, it’s just too slow for me. I, I like to hike and, and like fly up hills, you know, and I have my dog.
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Is it, you’ve just put your, you’ve put, you’ve identified the thing is that you have to move, you have to work on your balance, you have to work on your strength and conditioning because even though I like to operate, I don’t like to operate on somebody because they neglected their own health. And I think it’s important that people move and I’m about ready to, to shoot a video for yoga and I, I’m not going to go there to try to show what a hotshot I am and how I can stand on my head.
But it’s just important that we move as we, we get older because what, what killed my dad was a fall, you see, and it was because he was deconditioned. So, yeah. That’s, that’s pretty much just if you do Pilates, you do pickleball, you do golf, you hike, do something.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Well, that’s why I think us, we who live in California, the best thing that ever happened to me, not politically here, but physically and spiritually I came from Chicago and they were just drinking themselves and smoking themselves to death and watching three football games, you know, a Sunday.
And I thought, Oh my god, I got to get out of here, you know and then I moved to California and I started jogging and like, where else can you do that where you can be outside every day the weather permitting, you know, it’s just so, much easier here to be healthy. So, I really appreciate that. I got that bug the minute I moved here.
I went, I am now an exerciser.
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: See, you’re a canny woman and the thing is you take responsibility for your life. You know that things will change. But if you feel like you can make it, that’s the existential existentialist challenge, do something so, you can make things better for sure.
Catherine Maley, MBA: And do you have the cutest dog on the planet?
Please tell me he’s still around.
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: That’s my brother’s dog. I only, I only have partial ownership on him, but he’s, he is, he’s a, he’s a shameless scrounger.
Catherine Maley, MBA: He is so, funny in Instagram. He’s like the, like photogenic. What kind of dog is it?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: He’s an English bulldog. And believe me, he’s had a lot of cosmetic surgery.
He’s had a quad bluff. He’s had a uvular palatoplasty. He’s been fixed. He’s had a, he’s had something to do with his, his plumbing, his male plumbing. So, I don’t think it was lengthening. I think it was putting the lipstick back in.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Well, he’s adorable. So, the last question is the fun one. Tell us something we don’t know about you. How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: It’s probably in the public domain. I’m a shameless Golden State Warriors fan.
Catherine Maley, MBA: I did see that somewhere. That’s so, funny. Yeah. Where did that come from? How did this impact your journey from commodities trader to surgeon?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Because my daughter was a water polo player at Cal Berkeley. And when she quit playing, I had to watch something, you know, like fake, fake, shoot, drive, drive, fake, fake, shoot.
So, I, I think in a way. Why I love, I love the sports part, and I used to watch the Sixers when I lived in Philadelphia, but I think it’s something about the little chemistry of this team and the fact that they take their lumps. And that’s what we all have to do at the end of the day. I just finished watching Underrated with Steph Curry yesterday.
But it has to do is that sometimes we’re not always winners. Sometimes when we get to the top of the mountain, and then we crash down to the bottom of the valley. But it is that, it is that idea of how you can reorganize, and you can, you can embrace your teammate, or your patient, or your staff member, and your anesthesiologist, and you can regroup.
And if it’s meaningful, you’ll, you can make it work. And you may never be up at the top of the mountain again, but you can do something, and you have a certain amount of satisfaction there.
Catherine Maley, MBA: For sure. The analogy there on the teamwork thing. If you, the, the more I learn how to, when you add staff to your life, it’s such a new concept.
You didn’t go to school for that. You had no leadership courses at all. And you have to learn that on the fly. The sooner you learn that it’s a team. It’s not them against you. It’s not, you know, ah, so, much to that. But if you can get that teamwork down, just the analogy is just like a sports team.
Nobody’s the big prima Donna. They are for a minute, but everyone’s got to be helping them. So, anyway if anybody wanted to get ahold of you, how would they do so?
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Through our either by phone, we, we are on that. We aren’t set up to have a virtual appointment. Boyden said, so, you still have to talk to a real human being.
So, we’re, we’re the Newport Medical Plaza. Our number is (949) 644-1400, or you can visit our website at www.ChongMD.com.
Catherine Maley, MBA: www.ChongMD.com. Your name just keeps throwing me off. You, you, you, you are you are like the United Nations, huh? You’ve been around.
Lavinia K. Chong, MD: Yeah. You know what? Being married to an Englishman, we are, we are literally two days.
different. He’s two days my senior. So, we, we do, we are like twins and we’ve grown up together, but thank God, he keeps me grounded.
Catherine Maley, MBA: Oh, well, well, he’s amazing. Hang on to him for sure. All right.
Everybody that’s going to wrap it up for us today, a Beauty and the Biz and this episode on Dr. Chong went from being a commodities trader to becoming a surgeon.
A big thanks to Dr. Chong for sharing her journey of going from being a commodities trader to becoming a surgeon.
And if you have any questions or feedback for me, you can go ahead and leave them at my website at www.CatherineMaley.com, or you can certainly DM me on Instagram @CatherineMaleyMBA.
If you’ve enjoyed this episode on Beauty and the Biz, please head over to Apple Podcasts and give me a review and subscribe to Beauty and the Biz so, you don’t miss any episodes. And of course, please share this with your staff and colleagues.
And we will talk to you again soon. Take care.
The fastest way to success is to model other successful surgeons who have what you want, but you can only see their results, not the path they took to get there.
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-End transcript for “Commodities Trader to Surgeon — with Lavinia K. Chong, MD”.
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