Q&A with Greg Branham, division chief, Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

The Branham family on horseback, from left: Greg Branham, MD, son Matthew, daughter Grace, and wife Cindy during a vacation to San Diego.

Greg Branham, MD, serves as professor and chief of the Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery for the Department of Otolaryngology at Washington University. He is also the current chief medical officer for Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital.

Branham completed his undergraduate studies and medical school at University of South Carolina and a residency in otolaryngology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Following a fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University, he accepted a faculty position at Saint Louis University. He returned to WashU as division chief in 2004.

Branham in 1986 at the start of his residency in otolaryngology at Saint Louis University.

Here he shares what inspired him to enter the field and what he finds most rewarding about his clinical work.

What has your career path looked like?

I returned to WashU in 2004 having done my fellowship here in 1990. In the interim, I served as director of Facial Plastic Surgery at Saint Louis University where I had done my residency. I spent 14 years there and had a wonderful and diverse experience being able to serve as the Residency Program director for 12 years and serving twice as acting chair of the department and as associate dean of Clinical Affairs for the School of Medicine for seven years.   

Returning to WashU provided the opportunity for me to oversee the growth and development of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery here including the resident educational experience and re-starting the Facial Plastic Surgery Fellowship Program in 2010.

What inspired you to enter facial plastic surgery?

I started out as a General Surgery resident with the goal of completing that and doing a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship. As I progressed through my first year of general surgery I realized that I wanted to do otolaryngology after spending a month as a surgical intern on that service. The anatomy and the surgeries were fascinating to me and so I switched gears and came to St. Louis as an otolaryngology resident. 

What is the most rewarding part of being a facial plastic surgeon?

photo of Branham family
An impromptu Branham family photo, from left: Branham, Cindy, Grace (holding Gretchen), Matthew (holding Jeb) and Allison.

The most rewarding aspect of clinical practice is the great diversity of patients that we see and care for from the trauma patient with facial fractures to the elective cosmetic surgery patient. As an academic facial plastic surgeon, the opportunity to teach and help shape the careers of young otolaryngology residents and facial plastic surgery fellows comprises the most memorable moments of my career, and the great thing is that every year we get to do it all over again. 

If not medicine, what career path would you have chosen?

I did not always want to be a physician and did not decide to enter medical school until my junior year of college. I was a biology major and had intended to get a PhD and spend my life doing microbiology research and teaching. So if I had not been introduced to medicine, oddly enough, by the graduate students in the microbiology lab I was working in, I would have continued on that path.

What do you like to do in your free time?

photo of Branham in France
Branham traveled through France with friends in the summer of 1976.

I love to cook and travel and spend time with my family. Cindy and I are very fortunate that all three of our children live in St. Louis, two of whom also work for WashU.    We have started a tradition of the “Sunday Dinner” where we try to get together and have lunch or dinner at our house.  Cindy and I love to travel and I caught that “bug” when I spent six weeks traveling in Europe (mostly in France) the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. It is an experience that I will never forget, and Cindy and I have been fortunate to travel throughout our lives together.

If somebody wrote a biography about you, what would it be titled?

It would probably be titled “The Accidental Doctor”, since I sort of stumbled my way to the profession not having had exposure to the field. No one in my family was in medicine and so I had no context for making that choice, but I am so glad that I did because I love meeting new patients every day and caring for some of them for many years. I have patients now that I have seen since I started practice in 1990.