Elizabeth VanderVeer, M.D. – More Than Skin Deep

hile standard medical clinics can be sterile and drab, VanderVeer Center provides an atmosphere that is warm and inviting. Elizabeth VanderVeer, M.D. is President/Medical Director at VanderVeer Center, a Board Certified Internist, a native Oregonian, a published author, and an international lecturer and medical trainer. Overall, Dr. V is a kind and caring physician who is truly concerned about her patients.

Before walking into the VanderVeer Center, I knew little about cosmetic medicine and the differences between the medical specialities that concentrate on the outer appearance. Cosmetic medicine is not just for women. Men can benefit from the treatments, too. I discovered that your outer appearance does reflect your internal health, and what appears to be a minor skin condition might turn out to be a much more serious disease. It is good that Dr. VanderVeer has the training, the experience, and especially the time to carefully exam, listen to, and evaluate her patients.

What is your approach to medicine?

I have a holistic approach to patient care, that the external is a representation of the internal. And I don’t like the saying, “Look as good as you feel,” because we don’t always feel great every day. I prefer to say, “Feel as good as you look.” I take my profession in cosmetic medicine as seriously as I did Internal Medicine, and as scientifically as I did medical research. I critically evaluate the literature, the studies, the information, before bringing any product or device or drug into my office. I don’t use patients as guinea pigs, and I don’t bring anything into the office I wouldn’t either have in my own body or in the bodies of my loved ones.

I offer my patients something that other doctors may not. First, I am woman and the fact that I use medical services for myself gives me a perspective that’s different from a male physician who may not ever have tried any of his own offerings. Second, I’m afforded the luxury to spend time with my patients, not having to rush like a typical primary care doctor. In this way, I’m able to get to know my patients on a very different level and help them find resources for a lot of things beyond my field. And if need be, I can give them referrals to top doctors in fields that are completely unrelated to my practice. I’m the luckiest doctor in the world.

What’s the best thing about being a doctor?

Having the privilege of getting to be part of someone’s life in a way that a lot of other people are not. And it’s such an honor. It’s a very intimate relationship and I respect that boundary. And the best part of my job is when I see the tangible changes in my patients—their improved appearance and improved self-esteem.

I had this patient with a deformity of her nerves due to domestic violence. Other doctors told her that because it was soft tissue it couldn’t be fixed. I used my arsenal of tools to correct her damage. That literally changed her life. I’ve diagnosed rare diseases in people that they perceived to be cosmetic problems. It is all because of my Internal Medicine background and because I have the luxury of time with patients that I can discover these diseases.

Your primary medical training was at OHSU. Where did you study internal medicine after that?

I did my internship in residency at Providence St. Vincent Hospital. It was just fantastic. I had some of the most rigorous instructors, and some very interesting cases. We received a great number of referrals from small coastal communities. These patients had neglected their conditions for years. We also had a great number of high-tech foreign workers with some unusual diseases that are not normally seen in the U.S. It was grueling; we worked in the hospital over one hundred hours per week. Now, there is a new law that limits total hours per week in Residency to eighty.

As internists, we are taught about horses versus zebras. Internal Medicine is a specialty that teaches you to think critically in order to carefully evaluate symptoms, although 99% of what we see is routine medicine colds and upper respiratory tract infections. One percent may be a zebra, a serious disease. I take that same approach when I’m treating a patient for a cosmetic condition—is it a horse or a more serious zebra?

Please explain the difference between a dermatologist, a cosmetic surgeon, and a cosmetic physician.

There is a lot of confusion in the industry about all these specialties in medicine. Internists are trained to treat the inside of the adult body—heart disease, kidney disease, all kinds of blood disorders, and, some dermatological conditions. Dermatologists generally focus on diseases of the skin. A plastic surgeon deals with severe cases such as reconstructive cosmetic surgeries after accidents and birth deformities, augmentations and facelifts, etc.

I like to call myself a “PCP” – Primary Cosmetic Physician – a specialist in cosmetic medicine, which is 100% non-surgical. I, like all physicians, am licensed, trained. and able to do liposuction and even surgery, however, I prefer to send my patients to surgeons who have done a full surgical residency. I think the best doctor knows their limits and knows what they shouldn’t do. My non-surgical solutions provide real results that often match, exceed, or complement those of surgery. It is best for patients to have options.

If somebody has a cosmetic issue, should they visit a “Primary Cosmetic Physician” before a cosmetic surgeon?

It comes down to the patients’ expectations, their health issues, and what degree of change they desire. I think that youth is defined by volume in the right places, glow to the skin, small pores, no deep wrinkles and lines, no sunspots, liver spots, or redness or Rosacea. If a patient is unsure if they want surgery, I would highly recommend a consultation with a non-surgical specialist like me.. If you think you might want surgery or want a surgical opinion, you should go to a surgeon. I work closely with a select group of my surgical colleagues because we believe in completely focusing on a patient’s outcome.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a doctor and why?

I was an art student and in my junior year of liberal arts school. My art professor suggested I take anatomy and physiology courses, where I learned about the muscles and the bones and the structures of the human body. I started these courses literally within two and half terms of graduating with an art degree. I walked into my anatomy class, and on the first day… I can remember the smell of the lab, I can remember everything; the lighting, where I sat in the classroom… the light bulb went off above me. I want to be a doctor. I grew up in a household of doctors, but I never considered being a doctor. I’m a fourth generation VanderVeer physician, and the only female physician in the lineage.

So you think the artistic background got you into aesthetic medicine?

I do. The canvas that I now use is the human face and body. There is nothing more intimidating to me as an artist than a blank canvas. The first brush stroke is the hardest. Now that I start with the human form—you are given some shape, some structure, some elements to start with. When speaking with a patient and hearing what they want, I can visualize in my mind a picture of them 6 or 12 months down the road. I think that an artistic eye does help me as a cosmetic physician. But not very many of us are true practicing artists with a degree in art.

When did you begin to have an interest in aesthetic medicine?

The field of cosmetic medicine was just starting in the early 2000s, and I was a patient of this particular center that I now own. I was early in my career as a resident, meaning I was earning less than minimum wage. I needed a supplemental income. I told the owner I was looking for work, and he offered me a part-time medical director position. At first it was first 3 to 5 hours a week and that was just enough to help me pay my bills. As the medical director, I supervised procedures making sure that patients were taken care of and reviewed the charts. I had been trained in Botox®, Dermal Fillers and laser medicine and really had fallen in love with it.

One day, after four months, the owner took the money out of the business and moved out of State. I was left holding the bag. For me this was just a part-time gig. I could have either walked away or take over the practice. I decided to stay. I honored all the packages that had been paid to the center’s owner. Because I was taking over the center with all these patients, I considered it my start-up costs. Then I purchased the lasers, I assumed the lease site, and I did what I could to reassure our patients of the best quality care.

What about the ongoing training that is required? The techniques and medicines?

I take my annual CME credit hours that I need in cosmetic medicine. I attend numerous medical societies’ seminars, and I lecture at the seminars, too. I do basic scientific research in my office and present those findings at international conferences. Most of the studies focus around laser medicine or cosmetic medicine. I hold the patent and method patent for non-surgical rejuvenation, and I presented those results all over the world.

I am a faculty member of multiple medical societies, and other organizations, where I teach physicians about this specialty. I am also a luminary and trainer for multiple laser and pharmaceutical companies. I also teach doctors and other medical professionals how to inject all of the injectables that we have, like Botox, Restylane and Radiesse. I love to teach, that was one of the best things I learned in residency.

How is it being a physician and business person?

Most physicians are not natural born entrepreneurs. We usually advocate that to someone else. This is truly my third career—first was in business in Manhattan in non-medicine cosmetics, second was in art, and then the third is medicine. I come from a business background prior to going to college. While I was going through med school I worked in my mother’s solo practice. I’ve got a good business background and I have great advisors. You need to surround yourself with people who do things better than you. I have a good group of professionals, accountants and staff, who run the business so I can concentrate on patient care. Being with a patient is where the magic occurs. It makes me want to get up in the morning.

Do you do a lot of community and charitable activities?

I will always be involved in helping non-profits advance their mission and providing financial assistance. My primary focus is non-profits that help children, especially hunger issues. Did you know that one in five Oregon children go hungry everyday? That astounds me, and while I admire people that do things to help these children, we’ve got to do more. I also work with the Breast Cancer Foundation at St. Vincent Hospital to provide breast cancer patients free removal of their radiation treatment tattoo. It’s important to me to also provide my time to these organizations: the YWCA of Greater Portland, The American Heart Association, Komen Foundation, and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

How do you find balance being a doctor, businesswoman, community volunteer, and a mom?

When my boys were young, I tried to be supermom and serve lunch at the schools and read to the children and do things like that. Now that they are teenagers the focus is on being home for them by having dinner every single night together—without electronics—just us, t, talking about our days and what is going on in our lives. I want to connect with my boys. I want to know what’s happening in their lives and I want my boys to be at home – my personal goal is to connect with them every day.

It’s so hard to balance all the requirements of life. In my case, the raising of my children—teaching them and watching them grow has been the most life-altering part of my life. I have grown through their growth. I’ve realized that children’s needs aren’t that different from anyone’s. Adults, we become more guarded and more calculating in how we articulate what we want. Kids just tell you.

What do you do to get away from everything and relax?

My favorite recreational activity to do in the world is scuba diving. There is no pager, there is no cell phone. It’s quiet. You only hear your own breath. You see this incredible beauty you would not see on the surface of the earth. You’re weightless, which is a pretty spectacular feeling. It must be what it’s like being an astronaut floating in space. And even if you’re not a gymnast you can do somersaults in the water. Unfortunately, I only go diving once a year.

I like to write, I like to cook, I like to see nature’s beauty, I like all colors, I like spring flowers. I love the Oregon climate, and music moves me. I am very passionate about music. I love to hear my children play the piano—it fills the house with music. They also play in their own garage band.

The best way for me to recharge my batteries is having a good night’s sleep. We all must make it a high priority; it’s a necessity, not just a luxury. A good night’s sleep makes all the difference. After I have that good night’s sleep, I reward myself with an incredible cup of coffee.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about anything and want to pass on?

From a physician mentor, “VanderVeer, take pride in your work.” From a colleague, “You can’t do too much Due Diligence.” From my mom, “Hug your kids everyday.”

What would you say is your inner drive for success?

My inner drive for success is wanting to be a part of people’s lives in a positive way that in some way enhances their life.

Describe your ‘About Face’ moment.

It was in 2004. I was at the Oregon coast; I was doodling trying to come up with a brand for my new medical practice. I was doing all these drawings and I finally came up with the concept of “Art/Artist/Canvas.”. It shows the transition of my life from a practicing artist and painter to a practicing physician with the human canvas. That brand has defined me for the last seven years. It is very much the way I approach life. I have the right medical training, I have an artistic eye and a great canvas to work on each and every day, and that’s really the whole circle of my career.

About The Author: DC Rahe

Contributing Editor