When Jeffrey Aston, M.D. '17 departed for his six-year residency in integrated plastic surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona not long after his commencement, it was the next leg of a journey that has taken him far and wide, but has never strayed from a very clear end goal: to become a plastic surgeon.
Along the way, Aston has been treated to plenty of hard work, insights and experiences he will forever treasure and well-deserved recognition. In 2016, he was awarded a prestigious Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship for research he performed at Johns Hopkins University investigating a novel approach to tissue expander breast reconstruction using acellular dermal matrix. The award is named for Carolyn L. Kuckein, a long-time administrator of AOA and an honorary member who died in 2004.
A 2009 pre-med graduate of St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., Aston arrived at NYMC in 2012 knowing exactly what he wanted to do and what he needed to do to get there.
He had just spent two years at Johns Hopkins University completing basic science research with Ron Schnaar, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and neuroscience, on experimental therapeutics for spinal cord injury. The experience was intense and enlightening.
“Entering my basic science research years, I had been considering an M.D./Ph.D.,” explains Aston, “and the process was illuminating. I left knowing that I wanted to be a plastic surgeon.” Among other experiences, a particular encounter clarified Aston’s direction. He met a father and his young daughter who had traveled to Baltimore from the United Arab Emirates for the best craniofacial surgery they could find. For the daughter, it would be life-changing. She was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by severely disfiguring and debilitating craniofacial deformities. The reconstructive surgeries available at Johns Hopkins would give her the best shot at living a normal life. It was then that Aston recognized his destiny.
“Both of my grandmothers are artists,” says Aston, “and I always knew that I wanted to do something with my hands too – something procedural and artistic. I left my basic science research years knowing that for me it was plastic surgery … or another medium altogether.”
Once at NYMC, Aston wasted no time embracing the discipline academically and getting himself out into the field. Persistence and phone calls did the trick. In his first and second years at NYMC, he shadowed Nebil Aydin, M.D. ’00, who practices primarily reconstructive plastic surgery in Westchester County, as well as Michael Baroody, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon in private practice in Connecticut. In his third year, Aston completed a clinical elective in plastic surgery with craniofacial plastic surgeon, Silvio Podda, M.D., at St. Joseph’s Healthcare System in Paterson, N.J.
Following his third year, Aston took a “detour” but stayed the course, returning to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for a year, performing a clinical research fellowship with Gedge Rosson, M.D. ’98, associate professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins. Their work resulted in being awarded the competitive AOA fellowship. According to Aston, the year was a once in a lifetime opportunity. “The experience was invaluable,” he says, “and I forged everlasting friendships along the way.”
Last fall, Aston resumed studies at NYMC and on Match Day, everything fell into place when he learned he earned a residency spot at the Mayo Clinic—more than fitting culmination of a well-traveled journey.