Surgeons know that the more they learn, the more they want to learn.
That is precisely what drew plastic surgeon Mark C. Tan, M.D., to City of Hope.
Tan joined the Division of Surgery’s Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery on May 1, expanding the institution’s plastic surgery service led by James S. Anderson, M.D.
“This was a great opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Tan, who joined City of Hope after four years at a private plastic surgery practice in Illinois.
A lifelong Midwesterner, Tan never imagined moving to California. But his drive to sharpen his surgical edge — and a desire to focus on caring for patients — pushed him west.
“Refining techniques and learning new skills — those are prerequisites for being innovative,” Tan said. “Hopefully being at City of Hope will afford me the opportunity to do that.”Tan showed promise as a scientist and physician even before medical school; he earned the Sarah Baskin Award for Excellence in Research from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as an undergraduate. By the time he received his medical degree from the Northwestern University Medical School in 1994, he knew he wanted to enter plastic surgery. “I fit the temperament of a plastic surgeon,” he said.
He performed his surgical residencies at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago and the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens/Cornell University Medical Center, and then completed a plastic surgery residency at SUMMA Health System in Akron, Ohio, where he was chief resident.
Seeking even more specific skills, he took a fellowship in microvascular surgery at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which set the stage for his eventual arrival at City of Hope.
“At M.D. Anderson, everything I did was reconstruction after cancer. I would say about 80 percent was breast reconstruction, with some head-and-neck work and extremity reconstruction, since we had many melanoma patients,” he said. The work was difficult, but rewarding.
After the fellowship, he moved to private practice in Illinois, where he mostly performed breast reductions, skin cancer excisions and similar cases. “I took care of a lot of wounds,” he said. “I was on staff at five different hospitals. It was a case of ‘have scalpel, will travel.’” As time went on, his cosmetic surgery load began to grow, too.
But something was missing. Complex reconstruction and microvascular surgeries were sporadic in private practice, and Tan increasingly yearned for the chance to perform them. So when he heard that City of Hope needed an additional plastic surgeon, he pursued the opportunity — leaving home.
“There is tremendous job satisfaction in what we do in the cancer setting,” Tan said. “The patients are extremely grateful for what we do. I love our patients — they’re extremely inspiring.”
When not performing surgery, Tan boosts his own health and fitness by running, cycling, swimming and competing in triathlons. He also enjoys playing with his three sons.
His wife remains in Chicago with the couple’s boys, Christopher, 7, Nicholas, 4, and 5-month-old Jeremy, but they will soon move west. Although Tan misses them, he is happy to have found a professional niche at City of Hope. Said Tan: “It’s good to be part of a team with a similar mission.”