Why I do what I do

By: Peter G. Cordeiro, M.D., F.A.C.S.

Chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery | AiRS Board Member

As a plastic surgeon I have spent my entire career in a single institution, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (kjMSKCC).  I joined staff there in 1992 and have been the Chief of the Plastic and Reconstructive  Service since 2001.  For the past three decades I  have maintained a busy practice in cancer related surgical reconstruction.  My principle areas of focus have been in breast reconstruction and head and neck reconstruction, both of which have been extremely rewarding and personally gratifying.  As a reconstructive surgeon, my principal objective is always to restore and maintain my patients’ quality of life and body image.  In the head and neck, using the most advanced reconstructive techniques of microsurgery, it has been possible to restore patients back to normal function (swallowing, eating and speaking) and also to normal or near normal facial appearance.  In the area of breast reconstruction, the aesthetic aspects of the reconstruction are of primary importance.  My individual relationship with each of my patients, the challenge of assessing their expectations, how the cancer and its treatment might impact them psychologically and physically while providing  the best possible reconstruction for the problem at hand, and then being able to actually see the results that endure for months and years later continues to be what I remain most passionate about.

I have also been very fortunate to be able to combine my clinical interests with academic pursuits. I strongly believe that boundaries between clinical practice and scientific research should not exist and have been fortunate to facilitate the shared expertise among specialists in plastic surgery, oncologic surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, and radiology, within MSKCC and with outside institutions. From these collaborations, for example, we have developed multidisciplinary protocols to identify the optimal timing of reconstruction and treatment for patients with advanced breast cancer. Within our institution, my group, which spans several disease management teams, has incorporated plastic surgery into the framework of treatment for all patients at MSKCC. As Chief of Service, I have been able to recruit and foster six of the finest plastic surgeons in the world to specifically develop a wide range of academic programs.  These have ranged from microsurgical programs in breast, extremity and head and neck reconstruction, to the surgical treatment of lymphedema.  Together, we have also been able to develop a better understanding for the challenges surrounding reconstruction in the face of radiation therapy,  and have significantly widened the applications of implant based breast reconstruction.  As a service chief, it has been rewarding to incorporate my vision into the career development of my colleagues.  Even more gratifying is watching them evolve into national and world leaders in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

My experience at MSKCC over the past two and a half decades has been exciting, fruitful, and exceptionally rewarding:  I continue to wake up every morning looking forward to what we can achieve to continue to advance the frontiers of plastic surgery, while also solving the unique and individual problems that our patients face on a daily basis.