By Cristi Sanchez
Plastic surgery. For many, those two words evoke images of wealthy, vain Hollywood celebrities. For Dr. Julia Stevenson, however, they are words of hope for the physical and emotional healing of her patients. Dr. Stevenson is now bringing that hope to Hampton Roads patients when her new practice, Cardinal Plastic Surgery, opens this December in Chesapeake.
Dr. Stevenson was born and raised in Ohio, living her whole life with her close-knit family in the house in which she was born. At a young age, she knew she wanted to be a physician, and had a great love of science. “I especially loved biology courses where we learned about living organisms, and I was fascinated when we were able to do dissections and see the miracle of how living bodies work,” she recalls.
The Ohio native first established ties with Hampton Roads in 1999 when she began her undergraduate studies at Hampton University. She then attended medical school at Penn State in Hershey, PA where she discovered her passion for plastic surgery during a two-week rotation. “I had no idea I wanted to be a plastic surgeon until I was doing my rotations in medical school. The very first day we were doing facial fractures, hand surgeries, and breast reconstructions. The surgeons were very hands-on and encouraged me to participate. Their help and enthusiasm really got me interested,” she explains with her own enthusiasm. “I believe that plastic surgeons have a responsibility to help people see themselves, know themselves, and find their most attainable standard of beauty, which stems not just from the surgery, but from who they are as a person. Those two things go hand in hand to make us who we are.” — Dr. Julia Stevenson Her residency training was not without challenges, however. She experienced a personal tragedy that shattered her close-knit family. Six months after beginning residency, her father passed away, followed by the loss of her brother 13 months later. “They were two of my biggest cheerleaders and the people I shared all the details of my days and experiences with,” she says quietly. “My mother was a great source of support and strength for me, but it was extremely difficult to deal with those losses so close together while going through the rigors of residency. Fortunately, I was in a very supportive and nurturing environment at Penn State. They provided me the personal help and support I needed at that time to stay on track and succeed.” After her residency was completed, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania kept Dr. Stevenson for four more years when she took her first job as a surgeon in a rural Pennsylvania hospital on the New York border. It was during that time that thoughts began to brew about opening her own practice. “As a hospital physician, I found that some of the practices and policies within hospital and healthcare systems limited the attention I desired to give my patients. I didn’t feel I was able to care for them and spend time with them in the way I wanted to,” she states with conviction. So, in 2017 she decided to take a leap of faith and step out to establish her own plastic surgery practice. After much thought, she chose Hampton Roads. What would draw an Ohio girl out of rural Pennsylvania and proximity to her childhood home to set up practice in Hampton Roads? “From my time at Hampton University, I found I loved the area—the water, the seafood, the diversity—so after my 11 years in Pennsylvania, I decided to return here to establish my private practice,” Dr. Stevenson explains. “The extreme cold weather and magnitude of snow in that region may have played a part, too!” she laughs. Soft-spoken with kind eyes, Dr. Stevenson’s dedication to her patients is evident. Her vision for Cardinal Plastic Surgery is to provide personalized cosmetic and reconstructive care for each patient that will treat the whole person, not just the targeted surgical area. “My logo states my practice philosophy—‘Where You’re the Standard of Beauty’,” Dr. Stevenson explains. “It’s not often seen in the mainstream, but I believe that plastic surgeons have a responsibility to help people see themselves, know themselves, and find their most attainable standard of beauty, which stems not just from the surgery, but from who they are as a person. Those two things go hand in hand to make us who we are.” “I always tell my patients, ‘I’m working with you, not the person you want to look like. You the canvas and standard I work from.’” —Dr. Julia Stevenson Over the years, Dr. Stevenson has found that the external pressures from all forms of media—print, televised, and social—continue to have an effect on how people, especially young women, perceive themselves, and people often come to her in the hopes of looking like someone else. “My biggest passion, especially with young women, is being able to help them to know, see, and appreciate themselves in every aspect because anything done outside of that knowledge is not going to bring them the satisfaction they desire from the surgery. If they can’t accept and know themselves, the surgery won’t be successful in making them feel beautiful or empowered. I always tell my patients, ‘I’m working with you, not the person you want to look like. You are the canvas and standard I work from.’” While Dr. Stevenson sees men, women and children of all ages, she finds a special connection to her female patients.”As a woman, I feel I can connect with them because I understand how we view ourselves and the pressures we experience,” she explains. “Being a woman gives me a better opportunity to meet their needs in coming from a place of understanding.” The cardinal in Cardinal Plastic Surgery was a purposeful choice by Dr. Stevenson for her practice. A reminder of her father and brother, the bird is also a reminder of hope. “Not only is it the state bird for both Ohio and Virginia, but it’s a vibrant, beautiful bird that represents life, energy, and hope,” she shares.
That cardinal is representative of all the things that Dr. Stevenson wishes to provide her patients through plastic surgery. A truly dedicated physician, she puts her heart and soul into the treatment of every patient, male or female, providing them with hope and support to ensure that they leave confident and satisfied not just with their physical appearance, but in who they are.