Female Disruptors: Dr Alexis Parcells of Parcells Plastic Surgery + SUNNIE On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
See one. Do one. Teach one. This is a surgery mantra and one I learned early in my training. It’s so important that trainees get the opportunity to practice. I’m still practicing medicine. In healthcare today, efficiency and “the patient experience” are often top priorities, and teaching can take a back seat. I always remind my patients that these trainees are the future of healthcare. When patients compliment me on their outcomes or experience, I remind them I was given an opportunity to learn and practice — and we owe this to our future generation!
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Alexis Parcells, MD is a board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of SUNNIE, a skincare and anti-aging clinic, and Parcells Plastic Surgery.
She received her bachelor of arts (B.A) degree from Georgetown University and her medical degree (M.D.) from St. George’s University. Dr. Parcells completed her plastic surgery training at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS). She is Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. She is a clinical instructor at RWJ Barnabas Health and has a strong academic involvement in the plastic surgery community, has authored several textbooks and professional journal articles. She has presented her original research at numerous national and international meetings, including Brussels, Paris, Madrid, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City. She is also active volunteering for several breast cancer organizations including The Breasties, Minette’s Angels, and Fashion for the Pink Crusade. As a mother of two young daughters, Dr. Parcells values the time she spends advocating for Girls Inc., a non-profit organization committed to inspiring girls and young women.
As an ocean lifeguard in her teens, Dr. Parcells was diagnosed with low-grade melanoma and has since been diligent about sun protection. She has created her own clean, medical grade skin care line that protects against and reverses skin damage and aging.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Sure! I knew I wanted to become a doctor at an early age. My father is a physician, and his office was attached to our house. My mother ran his practice — so it was a family business. I remember how much his patients appreciated the care he provided, and I knew I wanted to focus on a career in service.
When I was in my teens, I spent time volunteering in our local hospital’s operating room which piqued my interest in surgery. Around the same time, I became involved in Operation Smile, and I began volunteering on medical missions and travelled to Kenya, Vietnam, Peru and Morocco. I was able to assist in life-changing cleft lip and palate surgeries. Having a cleft often isolates a child and their family from their community. To be able to transform a child with a one-hour surgery and now they are accepted again — that was mind blowing.
Once I entered plastic surgery residency, I found I most enjoyed treating breast cancer patients, helping them restore a sense of wholeness with reconstructive surgery. Breast cancer is so common (1 in 8 women), and I felt that treating these women in my community was the next natural step in my career. Many people don’t realize that breast reconstruction is a process — its multiple surgeries over months/years. When it’s all said and done — I didn’t just want these women to have acceptable looking breasts — I wanted them to look amazing — like they’d had cosmetic surgery. So now, I focus mostly on breast reconstruction and cosmetic surgery (augmentations, lifts, implant removals and revisions, mommy makeovers, tummy tucks/abdominoplasty, liposuction and labiaplasty).
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Well to start, my philosophy on plastic surgery is disruptive.
As a working woman and mom to 2 young children, I know what happens to our bodies as we age. And because of that, the conversation I have with my patients is very different from the traditional patriarchal consultation with an older white male plastic surgeon. I’m not telling you what you need for your body. I start the conversation by listening to my patients. I let them tell me how they feel and what their goals are. Many people don’t realize this, but I’m interviewing them as well — deciding if we are a good fit. I have to be able to understand their expectations, address their concerns, and connect with them in a very short period of time. If I don’t believe I can deliver on their goals — I’m honest about that. I’m not here to waste your time, money, and energy.
The model of my practice is disruptive. It’s modern. The website does not have stock images of Victoria’s Secret bodies. We feature real women and our patients. You can book an appointment with us directly online, anytime. You don’t need to submit a request. Boom, you click and go.
Also, we take pride in the fact that we have an app that lets our patients reach us anytime. We text our patients directly. You can send us all of your information directly through your phone. No paper charts. Also — being late is a pet peeve of mine, and so I’m ending that stigma of the late doctor. I’m here when you’re here. Let’s do this.
We also want to make sure our patients are set up for success. So we do our homework — no smoking, healthy diet, healthy body image. My team is amazing. The practice is not about me — in fact, I always try to say “we.” I can’t do what I do without these amazing women who work alongside me. They create the culture of our practice.
I always tell potential patients who are nervous or have hesitations about plastic surgery that this is completely normal. Thankfully, the stigma is changing. More women are empowered to say “you know what, I really don’t like this about myself. I feel self-conscious. I want to make a change.” After having 2 children, I myself really felt that way about my abdomen. I did the work — I lost the baby weight. But I still felt like I was sucking myself into my clothing. Spanx and SKIMS can only do so much. My body changed, and I was really self conscious about it — so I had a tummy tuck. Life. Changing. I always encourage women to do what’s best for them. There should be no shame in your game. But you should also come and see me because you want to be there. Not because a significant other, family member, or close friend guilted you into coming — talk about a disaster waiting to happen.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first opened my practice, I was doing everything — answering phones, scheduling appointments, ordering inventory, etc. One time I answered the phone and pretended to be my front office coordinator, but then midway through the conversation it came out that I was, in fact, Dr. Parcells! I am ambitious and really wanted to meet as many women as possible in our community. The prospective patient did in fact come in and have surgery — and we still joke about it. But now we have a process in place — and no, I’m not answering the phone quite as frequently!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Unfortunately, when I was in training (just a few years ago), there were not any women in my field that I could relate to. Thankfully that’s changing. Many of my mentors were men, and there was definitely a void that I felt in terms of navigating professional and family life — especially while having my daughters in the middle of residency. I was 26 years old when I started residency, and 32 when I finished. For both of my daughters, I was given 3 weeks of “maternity leave”, and my second daughter was a C-section. Talk about stress. Thankfully, I have an amazing support system. The few physicians who supported me at that time were men with daughters.
Now that I’ve navigated that chapter and I’m running my own practice, I try to help other women surgeons as they go through this process. Many people don’t realize that during training, we will often work over 80 hours a week. Work-life integration is essential (forget balance!), and I encourage women not put their personal lives on hold during this time. It is possible to make it work and it is OK to ask for help.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I believe disruption is good when it’s coming from an authentic place and when it can really help others. In plastic surgery, positive disruption can be empowering. For example, in my practice I routinely perform labiaplasty. This topic used to be taboo — and that is slowly changing. Many people wonder — how could a woman (1) care about this area and (2) want to do something about it. When you ask older women about this, they tend to be dismissive and negative about addressing an enlarged labia. But the younger generation is very much into self care. They are a lot less judgemental of each other. And for many women, this procedure can be a game changer. Clothes are more comfortable. Exercising is more comfortable. They feel much better about themselves. It’s a simple 45-minute skin surgery, and these women are grateful. So I feel like we are disrupting traditional “self acceptance” on this issue.
But the opposite end of this is body dysmorphic disorder, which can be as high as 15% in our plastic surgery patients. Just because something bothers you (you believe you have a problem) does not mean it is safe for you to find someone to fix it (find a solution). I’ve had potential patients come in and show me hundreds of photos of themselves at different angles using instagram filters or avatars and point out imperfections. In a world where photographs are everywhere, and everyone is judging one another, it can be hard to embrace our imperfections. It’s a fine balance. And so, in this regard, self acceptance is actually key. No amount of filler, Botox, or surgery is going to fix a problem. As a physician first, my goal is to do no harm.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- A simple stitch is not so simple — One of my mentors, Dr. Earl Fleegler, was a wonderful hand surgeon who loved to teach. He never rushed through surgery, and he took great care with each step of the procedure. He wanted to make sure that we understood every detail, and that we should not take any part of the operation for granted. Rather, go in with your whole heart and be proud of the work you do — from A to Z. Whenever I get impatient or frustrated, I refocus and remember these words.
- The devil is in the details -Mmy mother. This rings true in all aspects of my life — but especially in building and running my business. It may be easier to take a shortcut, but oftentimes you will learn more and provide a more quality experience by digging into those details.
- See one. Do one. Teach one. This is a surgery mantra and one I learned early in my training. It’s so important that trainees get the opportunity to practice. I’m still practicing medicine. In healthcare today, efficiency and “the patient experience” are often top priorities, and teaching can take a back seat. I always remind my patients that these trainees are the future of healthcare. When patients compliment me on their outcomes or experience, I remind them I was given an opportunity to learn and practice — and we owe this to our future generation!
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Some women, for one reason or another, will not have plastic surgery. However, there are still things they can do on a daily basis to take care of their skin and continue to look great and age gracefully.
I grew up spending summers at the Jersey Shore, and when I was in college, I was an ocean lifeguard. I had accumulated a tremendous amount of sun damage by the time I was 20, and I had to have a low-grade melanoma removed from my back. We didn’t know as much then as we do today about sun protection, and I’m invested in teaching the next generation about skin protection and correction.
I recently developed a clean, medical grade skin care line, SUNNIE, and we have recently launched online (www.sunnieskin.com). I want everyone to have access to products that both show clinical results and are not full of harsh chemical ingredients. We should have options for our skin to look age-appropriate at every stage of our lives. Being in the sun is important for your skin, as long as you know how to take care of it. My protect line is for women in their twenties and thirties and is safe during pregnancy and lactation. The correct line is for women starting in their forties. This line is inclusive of all skin types.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Childbearing years are considered “career primetime,” and our society simply does not support women enough here. It’s not like this elsewhere in the world. The US is behind, and as a result we are losing a lot of talented women from the workforce.
Thankfully, more businesses and government are acknowledging this and being more inclusive for both men and women in terms of paid time off and support services. But we are scratching the surface of this issue.
I also think the media plays a role in what defines a woman disruptor. We are still expected to look and act a certain way. I am loving the women-centered media companies and producers who are changing this narrative. I want more Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon and less Andy Cohen — no offense to Andy Cohen.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I love the podcast “How I Built This’’ that focuses on entrepreneurs and their journeys. I enjoy hearing about the struggles, because that’s the meat of the story. That’s likely where the entrepreneur spent 95% of his or her time. In order to accomplish something great, you’ve got to take risks and be lucky, and so it’s inspiring to see people taking those risks and trusting themselves.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Say No to No. Believe in yourself.
I’m grateful for my mentors and family who have supported me through my journey. I went through so much rejection and was told No — you cannot do this — over and over again. I did it anyway, and then some.
In high school, my guidance counselor told me I would not get into Georgetown, my reach school. I applied and got in. I struggled taking my MCAT, and was rejected from every US medical school I applied to. I went to a medical school in the caribbean. I was told I would never get into plastic surgery residency as a foreign medical school graduate. I did. I was told not to have children in my surgical residency. I did it anyway. I was fired from my first job in the middle of the COVID pandemic. I started my own practice. The list goes on…..
I’d like more people to believe in themselves. There is so much pressure, especially on the younger generation, to look and act a certain way for “likes.” If I had lived my life by listening to others and gathering likes, I would not be where I am today. Spend less time seeking approval from others and use that time to believe in and better yourself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Think outside the box. Build a better box, or something other than a box. I didn’t get to where I am today by following a traditional path, and it’s important to embrace our failures and imperfections. I still try to live by these words, even when it’s painful!
How can our readers follow you online? It should be easy to find me!
Instagram + facebook @alexisparcellsmd
Youtube Alexis Parcells MD
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!