In Profile: Mr Nigel Mercer

By Kat Cooke / 01 Dec 2015

Mr Nigel Mercer details his experiences of the plastic surgery and aesthetic industries and the valuable skills he has learnt along the way

“You don’t just say goodbye to patients who have a problem, you help them and hold their hand the whole way through” 

Mr Nigel Mercer details his experiences of the plastic surgery and aesthetic industries and the valuable skills he has learnt along the way

As the president of the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS), Mr Nigel Mercer’s devotion to plastic surgery and aesthetic medicine is clear. He explains that he has aspired to work in medicine ever since he was a child, “I wanted to be a doctor since I was four, as I was fascinated by biology and how the organs of the body worked – I was very focused from an early age.” But it wasn’t until he saw one of the first colour supplements in a newspaper that he developed a curiosity for plastic surgery. “When I was 11, I picked up a supplement from a Sunday newspaper and it had some images of children from France who’d had a bony disfigurement of the skull and face treated; I remember seeing one child who went from looking very strange to completely normal after surgery, and I thought ‘wow, that’s fantastic’ and then the rest of my life was really programmed to go into medicine.”
Mr Mercer gained his medical degree from the University of Bristol in 1980 and, from then on, was determined to work in plastic surgery; however, he found it a tough industry to break in to. “Plastic surgery was just as popular as a profession then as it is now, so you had to go off and do something else for about 18 months while you waited for an opening. You’d do your training, get your surgical qualification, then the people in charge would say ‘great, lovely to have you... but come back in two years time’.”
Subsequently, Mr Mercer spent around 18 months working in orthopaedics; treating backs, hips and carrying out arthroscopic surgery. “I remember sitting there thinking ‘how is this making me a better surgeon?’ But in fact, it got me used to looking after sick patients, improving my manual dexterity and stitching, so it actually did make me a better surgeon and I appreciate that.”
Over the years, Mr Mercer spent time perfecting his surgery skills in centres of excellence in London, Glasgow, Bristol and Canada. Today, he divides his time between his private practice Bristol Plastic Surgery, and his NHS practice in Bristol, where he is the senior consultant.
Although a specialist in surgery, Mr Mercer also acknowledges how non-invasive medicine complements his practice. “The world of aesthetic medicine has moved forward dramatically, and it’s not just ‘a bit of botulinum toxin and a bit of filler’; its complete facial skin rejuvenation. I can do a great facelift but if the skin looks as though it’s 200 years old, then it doesn’t look right. So we’ve incorporated aesthetic treatments into our practice.”
Appointed president of BAPRAS this year, Mr Mercer is also a member of several associations, which are very important to him. “Next year, I’ve taken almost all my annual leave for the BAPRAS meetings!” he comments. “I was at a conference in Lisbon recently and when I got back to the airport to travel home, the passport officer said ‘Did you like Lisbon?’ and I had to unfortunately reply, ‘I haven’t even seen it!’ But these meetings are so important. It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to work with practitioners from around the world. You get to meet some really interesting people; it’s an enormous privilege.”

For Mr Mercer, treating patients isn’t just a one-off procedure; it’s a process, and to him, every conversation with a patient is a psychological intervention. He feels its important to correct surgery if patients aren’t happy and make sure they know he’ll be there to help them whenever they need it. “You can do a facelift and have a fantastic result, but if the patient is a smoker
or sun-worshipper, then it’s likely that in a year’s time, the skin’s dropped; and that’s disappointing. But, metaphorically, you hold their hand and say, ‘I don’t like this either, lets do something about it.’ If revision surgery is needed, you do that. You don’t just say goodbye to patients who have a problem, you help them and hold their hand the whole way through.”

What treatment do you enjoy giving the most?

I love treating noses and faces. There’s a degree of natural variation in noses and you never quite know what you’re going to find when treating one. I have a mental image of what I think is normal for that patient and then try and create it – that’s the challenge!

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

Mr Douglas Harrison, who was one of my main trainers, said to me, ‘The one thing you need to make sure of is that you sleep well in your bed at night – so don’t take risks.’ If I have a complication, I feel terrible about it and can lose sleep over it. So minimising complications and risk is terribly important for me.

Do you have an industry pet hate?

I really don’t like the profit motive involved with aesthetics – some people come into it just because they think they can make a lot of money. When I teach students I say, ‘You’re never going to be rich! You’ll be comfortable, but you’re never going to be rich.’ And that’s true.

What aspects do you enjoy most about the industry?

I love the people! The industry is full of such nice people and a lot of us have ‘grown up’ together in the specialty. I’m lucky to have developed lifelong friendships. The patients can be exacting but it’s great to get to know and help them. 

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