This week in the “Meet Our Doctors” series, we have Dr. Karen Po, one of Beverly Wilshire Medical Centre’s Aesthetics Medical Practitioner. Having only spoken to her once, she radiates the vibe of a demure put-together lady with a polished commitment. This interview has certainly allowed both my colleague and I to see many sides of her that we would not have been to otherwise. Even though it was just a brief interview, her warmth and vulnerability to share her ups and downs in life inspired us, encouraged us and we definitely got to know her better. We hope you enjoy this read as much as we did chatting with Dr. Karen.
Dr. Karen, share with us how and when did your interest in aesthetic beauty develop?
Initially, I planned to do radiology. I graduated, completed my housemanship, settled down and it was when my eldest daughter was born, I got into the field of Aesthetics. My daughter was born with a birth mark and that was my turning point into this field. Back in those days, aesthetic medicine was not a module taught in medical school. Even though there were people who were doing fillers and botox, it wasn’t very popular. And I still remember that I received a pamphlet about a conference for fillers and botox. I took a look at it and sneered, I remembered saying something along the lines ‘this is not medicine, what is this even’. Never for a second I would have thought I wanted to do this. I’m very protective over my eldest daughter because I do not want her self-esteem or self-confidence to be affected. When she was very young, I remember her being teased by an impolite woman who was with her child, telling her husband to “look at that girl’s face, so ugly.” Coming from somebody who was already a mother, it hurts me a lot. I would never comment on anybody’s child, in fact you shouldn’t, even if they have down-syndrome or a little bit deform. Because in our eyes, every child is beautiful. Honestly, children are precious. That incident also made me quite depressed because it made me feel that I haven’t gave her the best and really, she doesn’t deserve to swallow rude comments. I really didn’t want her to blame me. It was then when I realized I have to do something for her. I want the best treatment for her with the least complications. I did not want her to suffer. So I further embarked and research on my own. The best way for me to find out is when I am actually in the field myself. Then I will be abreast with the latest technology besides understanding the pathology behind it. That was my main reason why I got into it. It wasn’t because of money. If I want money I would rather be a specialist than to go through the process of learning something new to me. My daughter today is a confident girl. I told her that the birth mark is a special mark from God and that it is just him wanting to look after her better. Also slowly, the mark is fading off. I did a session of IPL (Intense Pulse Light) treatment for her, it got lighter. But with school and downtime, I cannot further do any treatment yet, because she is also quite timid.
Do you regret giving up Radiology?
Sometimes I do, especially when I have a hard time at work. But when I have all these positive feedbacks coming from my patients and fellow doctors, thanking me, telling me that they like what I did and that I have changed their lives, it actually inspires me even further and it motivates me to keep going. I am not a very technical person so fancy stuff like lasers don’t really capture my attention. Whenever I pick up books, it will always be about Anatomy or fillers, because that’s what I like best. However somehow, part of me thinks if I pursue, I think I can make it as a specialist. In fact, I think that would be better because for Aesthetics doctor who practices aesthetic medicine, it’s not easy. Although it is slowly gaining recognition here in Malaysia, I think it is still being challenge as a profession that is not a labeled specialist and has many grey areas. I’ve got patients who ask me, are you a specialist, I tell them that I’m not, I’m an aesthetic doctor but I am trained and certified to perform aesthetic treatments. Even though we receive many challenges for example: a surge in non-medical practitioners doing aesthetics, the competition for business is there. However, I believe if you pursue showing your good work, people will still come to you. When it is more generalized, things will get tough but my passion is still in doing this and I do nothing but this. Actually, a conversation with another patient inspired me. She was telling me about her husband that had a little problem with his eyes and subsequently went to Singapore to get it treated. It was then I realized that there were specialists that had sub-specialties, for different areas of the eye, for example cornea, retina. I believe everyone has their strengths and when they focus on building knowledge and sharpening their skills in that particular area, it becomes their specialization. That’s where I gained a new perspective and thought to myself, “Oh, I want to be that, sharpening my skills and slowly focusing myself into what I’m doing best”.
What are you inspired by?
I have two daughters, 8 and 11. They are my inspiration, my life and everything. My youngest daughter has very beautiful lips. There is a natural indentation on her lower lips that corresponds to the cupid bow which is attractive and sensuous even when it is on a child. I was inspired and I call those lips “little butt”. Years ago, when we talked about lips volumisation, people will have the idea of full lips all over, and truly enough in the previous while, all patients’ lips were like that; Now, it’s about subtle improvement to enhance the overall contour and shape. My eldest daughter’s forehead and eyebrows are on the other hand features that inspire me. My children do not only inspire in the aspect of appearance, but in life as well. Over the course of the years, I find that the world is such a complicated place to be in, everyone is fighting for their own advantage, betraying trusts, it is really cruel. Growing up under very protective parents, I would say my life was quite a smooth sail. I studied, graduated, worked- my circle of life was really simple. But it is when I see my daughters, I still believe that there are genuine people around- genuine love, genuine response. Of course with life, I grew to be more mature as well. And no matter what, my daughters are still my strength, in them I still see hope.
Do you have someone whom you admire/inspires you?
All these years of attending conferences, there are people whom I look up to. My true inspiration in life is Dame Associate Professor Norma Restieaux, who is a cardiologist in Dunedin Hospital, New Zealand. She was honoured by the Queen of England for her dedication to her patients. She inspires me to put her time, her love and her everything into her patient and into her work. The way she interacts with her patient is very caring. In Asia, many doctors are overworked because the doctor to patients ratio is out of proportion and often, you’d see that they have to do their job so fast because there are 60 patients on their list. I’ve seen how the registrar will be talking to the patient, one would be taking blood, and another would be taking blood pressure. This I feel it’s so disrespectful to an ill person. It may be a lot better today but still in Asia, time means money. I think no matter what we do, we still have to be caring.
What do you think is a woman’s most powerful asset.
Oh let me tell you it’s not beauty and whatnot. But I think its knowledge. Women- we are more capable than we are. If we put our heart into it and are equipped with opportunity and knowledge, we can do so much better than men. Not so much on physical strength because we aren’t as strong. But we can endure so much more. A lot of women in the poorer countries are not given the access to gaining knowledge because once you give a person knowledge, you give them the power to excel. Women I believe have so much caliber in us, in all aspects. So I think knowledge is still a woman’s most powerful asset.
Do you have a greatest fear? Or do you try to not focus on it?
My greatest fear is the insecurity to find out that I don’t know something. I don’t know if this is a doctor’s trait. It’s not like I need to be in control; I’m not a control freak in any ways. But I fear that I don’t have that knowledge. As if I don’t do well enough. Personally I can accept failure even though I don’t like failure, which I believe likes failure. As what my Modern Maths teacher once told me: never repeat a mistake twice. Say for example in the field of injectables- fillers or botox, actually majority or 80% and above of the promise comes from the one holding the injector. Of course the material has a bit of related factor, but mostly it is technique related. It is so powerful for us to hold the syringe, to hold that hand piece of laser, you can cause damage. And there are four pillars of Medical Ethics and one of it is “Non-Maleficence: First, do no harm”. If you are not going to do any good to the patient, do no harm either. Additionally in the field that we are in, we’re just beautifying people, it’s not a necessity. For that money, they might as well save for their retirement, or for their children or for emergency. But when they come to you, they put their trust in you and of course they want to look good for whatsoever reason, so you have to make sure you act in the best interest for the patient and do a damn fantastic job for them. This doesn’t come cheap, and it’s so hard to earn every penny nowadays.
Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
I am, even though I’m not a Virgo. Maybe many years of doing Aesthetics, it’s about refinery of your job anyways, so every time as I do, I become more and more self-critical of my work.
How do you unwind and take you mind off work?
Shopping! I go for retail therapy. Then when I’m back home, I watch Disney Cartoon. Sometimes I watch Stephen Chow’s movies, up till now, I still enjoy it. Even if I watch it for a zillion times, I can still laugh along with it and can even memorize the dialogues. That’s how crazy of a person I am. Nowadays I watch “Crayon Shin Chan”. Last time when my nurses watched it, I didn’t know what was it about and still asked them “What kind of cartoon is this?” I’m really behind all these trending movies and whatnot. Everything I think about is work and that’s it. I don’t have much entertainment except shopping.
Any favourite designer’s brand for bags?
Nowadays I’m into YSL. I feel that this brand is actually quite overlooked but they have pretty good quality bags. But deep down I’m still a Chanel girl.
Favourite ice-cream flavor?
I love Haagan Daaz so everything from there is good.
Comfort or style?
Depends on where I’m going. If I’m not at work, I will be going for comfort. If I’m at work, I need to be abit fashionable. I’m an Aesthetic doctor, so I need to look good, partially I also love fashion. My clothes back home are slowly invading my husband’s closet, he only has 2 but I have 4 and that isn’t sufficient.
Tea or coffee?
Tea. I love tea! Green tea, chinese tea, all sorts of tea. Last time I used to love flower tea, guess we change with life.
Sweet or savoury?
Let me think. Last time I used to like sweet stuff, but now with my age catching up and I got a family history of diabetes, I’m scared of that. But deep down I’m actually still a sweet person.
Three words that you’d use to describe yourself.
Passion, love…. And still passion. For me it’s all about having passion, being passionate.
Aiyo a lot! Okay so there’s ‘Popiah’, ‘book ding fei’, ‘Kepochi’=busybody. Most of all I always get “Ah Po”= old lady and “Popiah” because of my surname, Po.
Three things you must have with you when you leave the house.
Phone, my bag and my lip gloss. I’m so in love with liquid lipsticks nowadays!
A celebrity that you think looks good?
I love Aaron Kwok’s chiseled jawline, the strong chin. But my all-time favourite male actor is Takashi Kaneshiro. For female actress, it would be our local celebrity, Neefola. I’m so captivated every time I look at her, she is very beautiful.
What’s your secret to beautiful skin?
Stay away from the sun because the sun will age you a lot. For me even if I enjoy the sun, I will be under the shade.