Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Human Rights Coalition
Dr. Sherman Leis
Interviewed By Meghan Chavalier
Dr. Sherman Leis is a leading transgender doctor, an acclaimed expert on transgender surgery, and a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon specializing in gender reassignment surgery.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, although I spent a couple of years on a surgical Fellowship in Sweden and France prior to the time I began practice.
After deciding against music as a career, I became interested in medicine during college through the influence of several classmates who were close friends and who were pursuing medicine as a career. The more I learned about medicine, the more I thought I would be happy taking care of people and that I would be effective and able to be a high quality physician.
After medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (one of the ten largest medical schools in the country), I did a one year internship at Zeiger-Botsford Hospitals in Detroit, Michigan. I completed a 4 year General Surgery residency at Metropolitan Hospital and Einstein Medical Center, both in Philadelphia. I then completed a 2 1/2 year Fellowship training in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Lund Hospital n Malmo, Sweden, and the Hopital St. Louis in Paris, France and the Clinique Belvedere and Hopital Foch both in Neuilly, France.
Since I started doing transgender surgery on a regular basis about 5 years ago, I have not attended any mid western transgender meetings until recently when I attended the Trans Ohio meeting at Ohio State University and it was a great meeting at a great venue, and I enjoyed meeting everyone there - so it was basically my first face-to-face exposure with people from that part of the country.
As far as choosing the right doctor is concerned, one way to choose a good doctor is to use someone who you know got good results for other patients who have undergone surgery. If you don't have any friends who have already had surgery, look at the different websites, attend transgender meetings and sit in on the lectures of surgeons you are interested in, have consultations with some transgender surgeons. (Here at the Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, we have many patients who have had surgery and are not to "shy" to share their surgical experience and will speak with prospective patients). It is not only important that the surgeon be well-credentialed, but it is important that the surgeon takes the time to explain the details of surgery for you and also that you feel comfortable with that individual.
Although I did my first transgender surgery about 30 years ago, I did not pursue the field at that time, but about 5 years ago, I was encouraged to again get involved in the field. I began attending transgender meetings, and then was invited give lectures and workshops and doing consultations for people attending the meetings, and I have been doing this regularly at all the major transgender meetings for the past 5-6 years.
I haven't had any problems in my community because I perform SRS surgeries except for the fact that most hospitals in my community will not permit surgeons to do transgender surgery in the hospital. Unfortunately, many hospitals and physicians are uneducated about the transgender community and remain quite discriminatory towards not only transgender people but also their doctors. Fortunately, this attitude is slowly beginning to change in the United States.
I don't think it is wise to travel to foreign countries to have major surgery performed. Even if the surgery is done well, it is still possible to have quite serious complications once you return home. At that point, when you are bleeding or in pain or have trouble voiding, it's not easy to hop on the next plane and go half way around the world for care. And even if you did, by the time you spent additional money traveling, hotels, and taking off from work, you end up spending as much or more money than you would have spent if you stayed in the United States. It always a good idea to be able to get to you doctor with a minimum of hassle. Many people come to my office in tears, literally begging me to take care of them because they had surgery so far away and found it difficult or impractical to return for follow-up care or treatment of problems associated with the original surgery.
I know that many doctors refuse to operate on patients who are HIV positive or have genital Herpes or other STDs. I personally have no problem operating on people with these conditions as long as they have been evaluated and treated medically and their medical problems are under control. It is the doctor's role to give care and treatment to people in need and I think it is unethical for doctors to refuse treatment to patients who have certain medical problems.
Renee Ramsey was one of the oldest patients to ever under Genital Reassignment Surgery and she remains very happy that she was finally able to be the women she "always wanted to be". Trans men and women should know that it is never too late to live the life you want to live. As long as you are healthy and you have medical and mental health clearance for surgery, you are never too old to do what is right for you.
I follow the recommendations of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). However, I am not rigid with the standards of care requirements. I use them as guidelines because I have seen many situations where it is just not practical or reasonable to insist on all of the requirements set out in the Standard of Care. In most cases I do like to see one and preferably two letters from mental health specialists trained in gender identity issues recommending the patient as a candidate for surgery, but I do not always insist that a patient be on hormones and living the "true-life" test for extended periods of time prior to surgery. I think every person should be treated individually and, depending on their personal circumstances and life, surgery should be done for people who are true transsexual patients and healthy psychologically and medically.
We perform all types of surgery for the transgender community. This includes Facial Feminization Procedures and top and bottom surgery for female to male and male to female patients. In addition, I have developed relationships with a large number of specialists in our area (and beyond) so that we can serve as a resource for any possible need a transgender individual may have while transitioning including not only mental health evaluation and clearance for surgery, but also endocrinology services for hormonal therapy, legal services to help with name change, discrimination issues, etc.., fashion, make-up, hair styling and grooming consultants, voice therapy, hair removal, etc. We have more than fifty licensed or certified specialists in many areas of transgender care. Most of the surgical procedures we perform are done in out-patient surgery centers or, for larger procedures such as GRS (bottom surgery) in local hospitals.
I think it is highly discriminatory and unfair for doctors to deny care to transgender patients. I think that doctors who refuse to treat patients based on their gender identity or sexual preferences are highly discriminatory and, in fact, are immoral and unethical.
What do you think could be done to help our society realize that transgender men and women are no different than every other living, breathing human being on the planet?
The increase in media attention over the past few years such as movies, talk shows, and documentaries on transgender subjects have done much to help society to realize that trans men and women are normal people with problems which need to be resolved and they need the understanding of the public, physicians, lawyers and insurance companies. Fortunately, because of the media exposure afforded transgender issues over the past two - three years, these barriers are coming down. In fact, more and more insurance companies are covering transgender surgery.
My own practice is limited to the Philadelphia area although I travel around the country for a variety of transgender meetings and seminars where I lecture, give workshops, and do consultations. I only do surgery in the Philadelphia area. Patients who come for facial and chest surgery need to remain in our area for a total of 7-8 days. Those coming for bottom surgery need to stay for about two weeks. Fortunately, in the building where my medical offices are located, there are several studio apartments which rent for $50/night. This not only saves the patient money since they don't have to stay the entire time in a hospital or hotel, but it makes it possible for me to see my patients daily during their recuperation.
Prospective patients who would like to know more about me or the services we offer at our Center can call my office for information (610 667 1888) or visit our web site: www.TheTransgenderCenter.com which has a large amount of information regarding all the procedures we perform, information regarding our professional team, and information about my own background. There is also the ability to email me from the website with any questions you might have.(DrShermanLeis@DrShermanLeis.com). I answer all emails and return all phone calls.
The best advice I've received in my life was from my parents was to be honest, treat others as you would like to be treated, obtain credentials in any area of work that you enjoy, and be persistent in your goals. I give this advice to my own children, to the residents I train in Plastic Surgery, and to my patients if they are interested in life's lessons.
When I am not working, I like to play tennis, swim, and play music. I have played the clarinet most of my life and function as principal clarinet in a local community orchestra, The Lower Merion Symphony, which I founded about 20 years ago.
If there is one statement which would define who I think I am as a person or doctor, I would say that I am a gregarious and versatile person who enjoys practicing and teaching surgery and takes great pride and satisfaction in helping people achieve their goals.
Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview Dr. Leis. I can honestly say that if and when I decide to have SRS surgery, you will be number one on my list.
For more information please visit The Philadelphia Center For Transgender Surgery Official Website