Meet the MD Who Knows Eyes
Steven Fagien, MD, FACS, is a trained ophthalmologist who now specializes in oculoplastic surgery, particularly cosmetic eyelid surgery and injectables. With a thriving private practice in Boca Raton, Florida, he is a recognized leader of the field, having developed several procedures that have become cosmetic oculoplastic standards. He has penned more than 300 articles and is the author of “Putterman’s Cosmetic Oculoplastic Surgery,” an honor bestowed upon him by his former professor and mentor, Dr. Allen Putterman. Dr. Fagien graduated from the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, Florida, and completed a fellowship in oculoplastics at the University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary in Chicago, where he worked with Dr. Putterman.
How did you choose your specialty?
In high school, my twin brother Michael and I decided that medicine would be a great career choice. Many of the people that we looked up to and respected in our town were physicians. Michael is now a radiologist, and ophthalmology piqued my interest because it offered the opportunity to be both a surgeon and a medical doctor. In the middle of training, I realized I really didn’t want to be an eye surgeon; I couldn’t see doing cataract surgery for the rest of my life. One of my mentors, Melvin Rubin, MD, suggested oculoplastics as a career path, and even though it was late in the year, I was accepted as a fellow at the University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary in Chicago, a leading institution in the field.
Have you always specialized in cosmetic eyelid surgery and injectables?
During my first years in the field, I did a lot of reconstructive surgery, trauma and cancer cases, and enjoyed it. When I entered private practice and moved to Boca Raton, patients came to me saying they were interested in having their eyes done by a guy who was trained in ophthalmology. It’s a fairly affluent population with many residents interested in having cosmetic surgery. The more I did cosmetic surgery, the more I loved it. I understood that I wasn’t saving the world, but I was helping patients who weren’t happy with their appearance leave my office thinking they looked pretty darned good.
How do patients learn about you?
My most trusted source of business is word-of-mouth. I’m not against the Web – it can be very informative, but also very deceptive. Practitioners with questionable or marginal talent may have Web pages that are incredible, leading you to think they have invented every procedure known to plastic surgery. It’s buyer beware. When a patient comes to me because of my reputation, I know that he or she is serious about surgery and not just shopping. I find that my doctor-patient interactions become long-term, friendly relationships. We set up our offices to be a friendly environment. My patients love my office staff and my staff treats patients with respect. My patients get what they come for and are extremely satisfied with the results. There is no referral stronger than excellent results, and there is nothing as long-lasting.
Has the downturn in the economy in South Florida affected your business?
In a strange twist of fate, the slow economy has benefited my patients. They had the advantage of scheduling appointments earlier, and while our schedule was still full, it wasn’t crazy. One benefit of having a busy practice is that I had a significant backlog of surgeries scheduled far enough in advance that it kind of balanced out some of the losses. During the bleakest moments of the economic downturn, my practice experienced a drop in surgery, but perhaps not as surprisingly, an increase in injectables as alternatives to surgery and to maintain a youthful appearance. My practice is now experiencing an upturn because people are scheduling surgery and coming to South Florida to escape the cold and take advantage of real estate bargains.
How has this media obsession with makeovers and reality television coverage affected your profession?
Media is a double-edged sword. It raises the interest in cosmetic surgery, but it presents some risks too, particularly the risk of demeaning the importance of selecting a very qualified specialist to perform a surgical procedure. Some media coverage has implied that there are no risks involved with procedures. I find it very worrying when someone reads that surgery is simple or sounds too easy. Particularly with the delicate intricacies of the eyelid area, surgical improvements require skills and good judgment.
How do you maintain personal balance with such a busy schedule?
I pick and choose, and prioritize based on what I enjoy and what is most rewarding. My wife and three daughters are my primary passion and I am committed to the Fagien family nightly dinners. It’s a really special time that we have not compromised for 20 years. Fortunately, when my kids needed me the most, I was growing my practice so I was around much more. When they became teenagers and didn’t really care if I was around as much was about the time I started traveling quite a bit. Today, I help keep balance in my life by making time with my family without sacrificing my ability to take care of my patients, conduct clinical research and give courses at national and international meetings.
What does the future hold?
I am very hopeful that I will be as good a surgeon and injector in my 70s as I am in my 50s. I love what I do and there are new things coming all the time to keep it interesting. I have a lot of colleagues that I respect, and we’ve promised to tell each other when it’s time to call it quits.