Jennifer Walden, full-time mother and plastic surgeon, sits with her twin sons, Houston and Rex. After spending seven-and-a-half years working in New York, Walden returned to Austin and now owns a private practice.

Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

The first time anyone ever told UT alumna Jennifer Walden that she would be a surgeon, she was in junior high. Her teacher recognized her ability to quickly dissect a pig while the rest of the class struggled squeamishly. 

“That was the first little nugget implanted in my head,” Walden said. “Every time I ever worked with dissections or the human body, I enjoyed that a lot. It was a natural fit for me.”  

Walden did as her teacher predicted when she earned a degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston and became a plastic surgeon. As an undergrad at UT, Walden learned to balance her studies, her sorority, a pre-med honor society and club sports. Now, she owns a private practice — Walden Cosmetic Surgery Center — with a fully accredited operating room located at the Westlake Medical Center. 

“The work I do is conservative but dramatic,” Walden said. “I operate on people who are well and healthy but want to do something that will make them feel better about themselves. The best plastic surgery is what you don’t know has been done.”

Walden realized her affinity for plastic surgery when she rotated through different surgical specialties in medical school.

“When you go through that rotation, you just know that’s what you want to do,” Walden said. “It’s almost like meeting the love of your life.”  

Walden said she loves her ability to make an enormous change in patients’ lives through surgery.

“Plastic surgeons, specifically, like visible change,” Walden said. “We want to see what we’ve done.”

After her fellowship at the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital, Walden worked in New York for seven-and-a-half years. In 2010, Walden chose single motherhood and used in vitro fertilization to give birth to her twin sons. A year later, she uprooted her practice and moved it to Austin to be near her parents and siblings. 

“I think one of the things about being a female surgeon is that you end up delaying your child bearing,” Walden said. “Moving back was one of the hardest and most rewarding times of my life. I wouldn’t change the timeline of events at all because, at the end of the day, I own my own business and I’m the captain of my own ship.” 

As a female in the male-dominated field of surgery, Walden said she has never been intimidated. 

“I enjoy having male colleagues,” Walden said. “It takes the right mind-set of knowing you’re going to be scrutinized more than your male counterpart. Men and women are different, and, if you embrace that and work your tail off, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Aside from being a full-time mother and surgeon, Walden is a co-author of “Aesthetic Plastic Surgery” and a philanthropist involved with many organizations, such as Austin Smiles and the Junior League of Austin’s Food In Tummies program.

“I would love, as they get older, to take my boys along on mission trips so they can see how privileged they are to live in our world,” Walden said. “I also like giving back to my community here and giving back to children because they’re helpless.” 

Walden said owning her own practice is a dream come true. She credits her success to her mentors, the support of her family and hard work.

“Thinking back, I thought I would’ve been much more normal,” Walden said. “But I exceeded expectations. When you do make your major life decisions, make them not on money and not on fame. Base them off of what’s best for your family or well-being. I feel like it will take you in the right direction.”

Breast cancer prevention needs to be prioritized and funded to the same degree as other areas of cancer research, according to a new report issued by scientists and breast cancer prevention advocates.

The report was issued by the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee which was mandated by Congress in 2008 as part of the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act.

Michele Forman, chairwoman of the committee and professor at UT’s department of nutritional sciences, said the report is a call for public health action, comparable to the surgeon general’s report on the effects of tobacco smoke in 1964.

The report calls for a more holistic examination of the environmental factors related to cancer diagnosis and prevention. It reviews the development of breast cancer as it is related to the environment, identifies major knowledge gaps in this area and develops recommendations.

“We must prioritize prevention,” Forman said, “We can no longer ignore the role of the environment; and the ‘environment’ in this sense is very broad. We are talking about lifestyle, diet, physical activity. We talk about chemical and physical agents in consumer products, but we’re also talking about psycho-social, societal and cultural influences. We went the gamut in our report, not solely focused on one area.”

Forman said her own research focuses on “windows of susceptibility” stages in life at which environmental factors may promote the irregular development of breast tissue. These include fetal development, puberty and pregnancy.

“We know that girls who are born of high birth weight are at increased risk for breast cancer,” Forman said. “What is it about being heavier at birth that leads to cancer? We’re not sure. You need more than [a few people] investigating this area. The whole issue is that we need to know how environmental exposures in utero, infancy, childhood, adolescence build up your risk of breast cancer.”

Ultimately, the report calls for a strategic plan that will facilitate the dissemination of its recommendations back into society and encourage equal investment into breast cancer prevention research.

“This report warns the government and the people that there’s an association between exposures in our everyday lives and the emergence of breast cancer,” said Jeanne Rizzo, president of the Breast Cancer Fund and co-chairwoman of the committee. “The most pressing issue is for us to agree that prevention has an equal standing with treatment, cure and access to care — that it’s equally important.”

Rizzo said the report’s impact is at the whim of the federal government and it can only be as strong and informative as its implementation will allow it be. 

“When the surgeon general said people need to stop smoking, anti-smoking campaigns were built, warnings were put on cigarette packs, studies were done,” Rizzo said. “That’s what has to happen. The same way the warnings from the surgeon general turned into an implementation plan, the recommendations made in this report have to be implemented.”