May 4 2011 12:00 AM

Plastic surgeon Anthony Youn leaves ’em ’In Stitches’


Doctors are not supposed to be funny, but
Birmingham plastic surgeon Anthony Youn must have skipped that class in
how to maintain a sternly serious demeanor at Michigan State
University’s College of Human Medicine.

His new memoir “In Stitches” is a
hilarious look at growing up as a teen in the small town of Greenville,
surviving some serious clumsy teenage moments as one of a few Koreans in
a virtually all-white community and finally dragging his butt out of
bed for four years of medical school.

“In Stitches” is one of those books that
is hard to categorize. At different points it’s pure David Sedaris,
sometimes it’s “Tiger Mom” and it’s all rolled up in TV’s “Scrubs.”

Youn said he didn’t want to write some boring doctor’s book.

“I wanted to write an honest book about what it’s like to become a doctor,” Youn said.

He especially wanted to tell the “humorous" truth, which he manages to do with great big gobs of self-deprecating humor.

In a recent phone interview Youn talked
frankly about how most doctors are nerds. “These are the same kids who
were teased,” he said.

And teased he was in Greenville, until he
turned his nerdy behavior around to become one of his class’s best
dressed and most-likely-to-succeed students by the time he graduated. In
his book he says being named runner-up for best dressed was the “award I
worked hardest to achieve.”

What he didn’t get was any action, which
he talks about in-depth in his memoir. And it was the kind of action he
wanted most: Youn. like most males. craved sex.

He tells how he struck out all four years at Kalamazoo College. For Youn, college was the “worst four years of my life.”

It’s not as if he didn’t try. At one
point he even found himself on a date with a real fire-eater. (He
should’ve been tipped off when he met her at K Mart buying a gallon of
lighter fluid.)

Youn tells how his quest for sex even
entered into his decision between choosing MSU or Wayne State
University. He chose MSU because he wanted a clean slate away from his
nerd friends. He also had another reason, as he points out in italics in
his book: “I want to get laid.”

There will not be a spoiler here, but
it’s safe to say his pursuit of that goal, along with the rigors of
becoming a doctor, are the basis for one funny romp.

Youn does admit he’s no Tucker Max: “I’m the anti-Tucker Max.”

Although girls and medical humor fill
most of the book to the brim, especially his years at MSU (1994 to
1998), there are some dramatic turns of events that tell you everything
you need to know about Youn and why he became a doctor and in particular
a plastic surgeon.

Early on in the book Youn tells you about his particular affliction in a chapter titled “Jawzilla.”

He was burdened with one of those jutting
jaws reminiscent of mountainside cliffs. Fortunately for Youn, a
plastic surgeon resculpted his face. It would be easy to assume that
moment launched Youn’s dream to become a plastic surgeon, but you learn
later in one of the more poignant moments of the book that it was during
his third year of medical school, when he was rotating through sub
specialties, that a baby who had been attacked by a pet raccoon was his
direct inspiration. 

Youn finds medical school is not all fun
and games. Another telling moment comes in his first year when he finds
himself confronting a pile of severed hands in an anatomy class.

He writes: “I have been given a gift and
that I have a mission and a responsibility. I feel obligated to the
people who gave us their hands.”

Youn says he was almost predestined to
become a doctor: For his father, a pediatrician in Greenville, the only
question is what kind of doctor. Youn’s father drives his son with the
intensity of a “tiger mom,” even canceling a Christmas trip when he’s
unnaturally disappointed at Youn and his older brother’s poor study

When it comes time to tell his family he
has a book coming out, Youn waits until it is almost on the shelves
before sending it to them. He’s apprehensive about calling to find out
how they liked it.

“I was freaked. I called mom to see what happened. She told me she cried for two days. I thought, ’Oh man, this is bad.’”

He said his mother was moved because of
the pain he had experienced as a child and young adult. She told him she
had explained to his dad that he had dramatized everything.

“Not!” Youn said. But he would never tell his father that.

Youn said his father liked the book and
told him that as the first-generation Korean his role was to be a
stepping stone for his son to “step over to the other side.”

That other side includes Youn’s role as a
celebrity plastic surgeon — which is not the same thing as a plastic
surgeon for celebrities.

Youn is a frequent guest on "The Rachael
Ray Show" and CBS’ "The Early Show" and has appeared on Fox News’ "The
O’Reilly Factor." He also blogs at

Even after his tremendous success in his career Youn still worries.

“I have mixed feelings how medical school will react,” he said.

If his former teachers are smart, they
will buy a copy of "In Stitches" for each incoming medical student and
make sure they read it.

Youn already has plans for his next book,
which will follow him through his residency in Grand Rapids. Watch out:
Here comes the doctor who confronts leeches on a porn star’s nipples,
giant "man boobs" and the search for a woman of his dreams.

Dr. Anthony Youn
Author of "In Stitches"
7 p.m. Thursday, May 5
Schuler Books & Music
1982 Grand River Ave,,
(517) 349-8840