Pediatric plastic surgeons operate with extreme precision on the smallest of babies up to big kids, adolescents and teens. From facial birth defects, like cleft lip and palate, to jaw surgeries and other facial malformations affecting the face and skull, Alex Rottgers, M.D., approaches each case with a unique lens. As chief of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, his goal is to get to know each family individually, and learn how his team can improve the quality of life for their patients. Now, the tables are turned as we get to know him a little better.
Describe what you do in a normal day.
I typically try to get in a workout at some point, but always start the day with two cups of coffee. I’m in the office by 6 a.m. planning for the day ahead, doing administrative work or engaging in research. I typically spend about three days in the operating room. Then twice a week, I’m in clinic in St. Petersburg, Sarasota or Tampa seeing patients and families, preparing kids for surgery or following up with them after their procedure.
What did you want to be when you grow up and why?
I wanted to be a surgeon since high school, but when I was really little, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. I wanted to design and make rockets when I was 4! We grew up in southeastern Virginia and my dad was a priest and many members of the church worked at NASA and were even a part of the Apollo mission. I thought they were really upstanding men and thought what they did was really interesting. I wanted to be like them.
Who were your role models growing up?
Number one — my father. I took from him the idea that what you do in life needs to be in servitude to others and improving the world. My interest in engineering and science came from growing up around all those engineers who worked at NASA. I found myself loving science and biology. Medicine was the marriage of those two.
What made you choose your specialty?
Actually, I thought I was going to be a neurosurgeon. I was fascinated with the anatomy of the head, neck and brain and I liked doing big impactful difficult operations. When I went to medical school though I gravitated to plastic surgery, particularly to be a craniofacial surgeon. The best thing about it is that we’re taking care of healthy children, some with big medical issues, and we’re able to completely correct or dramatically improve their quality of life … and I found that rewarding.
What made you want to work at Johns Hopkins All Children’s?
I had the unique opportunity to practice medicine and be a part of an academic institution. The opportunity to build, grow and develop an academic division of plastic surgery was a very daunting task, but very exciting for someone just starting their career.
Do you have any hobbies or anything you do to take your mind off of work?
All my time that is not spent at the hospital is spent on my family’s hobbies. I spend my time right now taking kids to tennis, cub scouts and hanging out and spending time with them on the weekends. I aspire one day to get back to running marathons and trying to play the guitar.
Is there a piece of health advice or one thing you want your patients to know?
Besides making sure your family is vaccinated … I think it’s important that families not only choose an excellent doctor, but a team of medical professionals to care for their child. That’s one thing I think we do quite well in plastic surgery. Surgical craft is the most important part of my practice. You have to strive for perfection especially when operating on children. In plastic surgery, everyone sees what you do, from the dressing to the closure to the final scar. I not only take pride in the technical quality of work I do, but I’m grateful to have wonderful colleagues working together to fix problems and improve the quality of life for our patients.