Objectivity meets artistry
For plastic surgeon Julius Warren Few, MD’92, innovation in his craft comes at the intersection of technology and art. “True innovation needs both. Technology needs great minds in aesthetics to grow and be successful,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I could innovate. I thought it was the highest honor that anyone could ever have.”
His desire to promote innovation in his field and to honor his mentors led him to make a binding bequest attached to a flexible endowment gift to establish the Few Institute Lectureship in Plastic Surgery.
“When I graduated from medical school, I felt like the University of Chicago changed my life. It instilled in me a desire for evidence-based medicine and the pursuit of excellence,” says Few, who, in addition to founding an independent practice in Chicago, is a clinical professor at the Pritzker School of Medicine and a health science physician at Northwestern.
“I didn’t get here by myself. I got here luckily with grace and help from individuals along the way,” he says, citing UChicago Medicine mentors such as professor of pathology and genetics James Bowman, cardiac surgeon Robert Replogle, endocrine surgeon Edward Kaplan, and gastrointestinal surgeon George Block. “And that led me to want to really be in a position to not forget that and to give back.” A meeting with Bowman ultimately convinced Few to attend Pritzker rather than a school on the East Coast.
Since 2016 the lectureship he founded has invited innovators in aesthetic plastic surgery to address the Department of Surgery. In addition to the lecture, faculty and residents can connect with the visitor over dinner, lunch, and during grand rounds. Few hopes the speakers use their influence to shape the way the next generation of plastic surgeons thinks and looks at the field.
His own view of plastic surgery stems from his twin interests in technology and art, which he traces to his upbringing in Detroit. His father was one of the first African Americans to work for IBM, while his mother was a professional Motown singer. “They were my role models, and they represented a blending of objectivity and artistry,” says Few, who lives in Chicago with his two sons, aged 10 and 12.
Although he wanted to be a doctor ever since his childhood viewings of Quincy M. E., a ’70s TV show about a forensic pathologist, Few continued to pursue photography and oil painting in his spare time. In medical school, he gravitated toward what he saw as a natural affinity between art and medicine: plastic surgery.
“The term comes from the Greek plasticos, which means to mold or reform. The very nature of my work is the shifting of soft tissue, and I need to be able to see three dimensions and spatially arrange them,” says Few. “I immediately realized my calling, because with plastics I can literally make things up, based on principles, and see them come to light.”
He’s extended his creativity by developing new operations and procedures. One, which has become a gold standard in the field, is a way to lift the cheek and the lower eyelid from the inside of the lid, rather than the outside, which had a high rate of complication.
“I went to the cadaver lab and applied principles, looking at anatomy from the standpoint of what perhaps caused the problem to begin with,” he says. “I invented an operation based on that.”
In addition to establishing the UChicago lectureship, he has also founded the Few Initiative for Children, a nonprofit designed to empower disadvantaged and at-risk children in the city. The program encourages high school students to develop their own community-based programs, providing the support to help them implement their vision and thereby contribute to the community.
“In addition to being a great father,” Few says, “I hope to be remembered as someone who, in an unselfish way, gave to the art of medicine and helped to improve the lives of other members of humanity.”