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Prof Kairinos aims to create the best Plastic and Reconstructive surgery unit on the continent
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie – Jackie Pienaar-Brink
Published: 01/07/2022

The expression on a patient's face when you have finally done something for them that they thought was impossible, is perhaps the most satisfying part of his job.

“Changing people's lives is as gratifying as saving lives," says Prof Nick Kairinos, the new Head of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Stellenbosch University (SU).

Kairinos, a leader in the field of negative-pressure wound therapy, was in private practice from 2011 until May this year. He will continue to do a limited amount of private practice in his new position at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. “I look forward to academia, teaching young surgeons, and the excitement I used to experience when discovering new things via research – especially when our research findings challenge what we always assume or take for granted in medicine.

“The other aspect of my job is clinical, and I enjoy the challenge of having to think out of the box to solve many reconstructive surgery problems."

Kairinos' parents were in their early twenties when they moved to South Africa from Cyprus. He was born in Klerksdorp, but grew up and was schooled in Welkom.

He completed his medical degree at the University of the Free State in 1996. “After spending eighteen months in East London, I worked for five years in the United Kingdom, during which time I obtained my Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (England) in General Surgery, travelled the world, and also met my future wife."

He returned to South Africa to specialise in plastic surgery at the University of Cape Town (UCT). “I chose plastic surgery because of the precision required and the innovativeness of the specialty. I completed my Fellowship of Plastic Surgeons of South Africa in 2010 and the following year I concurrently obtained a master's degree in trauma surgery (cum laude) and doctorate in plastic surgery."

Looking back, he realises that many individuals that he was fortunate to have met along the way, contributed to shaping his future. If he had to single one out, it would be the then Head of Surgery at UCT, Prof Del Khan, “primarily because he believed in me and my potential, even more than I believed in myself at the time. His support guided me toward a path of flourishing research, winning a minimum of two congress awards for research every year throughout my registrar training. In doing so, he helped shape my self-belief, and I am forever indebted to him for this."

His PhD thesis was on the biomechanics of negative-pressure wound therapy. “My findings changed the way we understood how these 'vacuum dressings' work, to the extent that our indications and contraindications for them have had to be revised. This was the first PhD to be conferred to a South African plastic surgeon by UCT, and has resulted in me becoming an international opinion leader in the field," says Kairinos, currently editor in chief of the Journal of Wound Healing of Southern Africa.

Kairinos' ultimate vision for the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at SU is to make it the top department in the country and the continent. “I expect the highest registrar pass rate as a result of them being the most well-trained and supervised registrars in the country. I expect to see a significant increase in the amount of research this department produces, with more interdepartmental collaboration with other specialities. I believe this flow of exciting, novel research will help make this department a shining example internationally of what South Africans are capable of."

He intends to achieve all of this while simultaneously making his department a fun place to work. “Coming to work, shouldn't feel like work. It should be exciting and fun."

And his advice to any doctor wanting to specialise in plastic surgery? “First obtain your primary and intermediate exams in surgery before you apply for plastic surgery. It's a very sought-after speciality and posts are few. And when you do apply, without a doubt your first choice should be the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Stellenbosch University!"