Anyone in Central Arkansas who has not heard of Dr. Suzanne Yee need only visit the spacious west Little Rock building where she transforms looks and lives to see that she's popular.
Giving testament to that popularity are the numerous multiple-year "Best of the Best" and "Best Cosmetic Surgeon" reader's choice awards, from various publications, framed and mounted.
And anyone who wants to see what Yee holds the most dear to her heart need only take a peek into her spacious office. The photos of her, her husband, Bill, and their two daughters over the years give testament to her devotion to family.
The grateful patients she has had over the years include the car-wreck survivor whose face she helped piece and sew back together when she was on staff at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences ... a patient she still keeps in touch with and who is doing well. The woman who took care of everyone else, including her dying sister -- who left the woman the money for the face-lift she'd always wanted. The 8-year-old who was so happy after her otoplasty (the pinning back of her protruding ears) that she went on television to do a testimonial.
And there was the mother who lost a dramatic amount of weight, had excessive sagging skin and finally decided, after her youngest child left the nest, to get a tummy tuck and breast lift. "After she recovered, she showed up at our open house in a beautiful red form-fitting dress with her husband," Yee says. "She looked beautiful and I was so happy for her."
Day in, day out, Yee -- who turned 60 on Friday -- performs Botox, fillers and laser treatments for her nonsurgical patients; face-lifts, eyelid lifts, tummy tucks, breast augmentations for the surgical ones. A large number of patients come asking her to reverse the aging process for them. "We are calling this prejuvenation," she says.
She has seen the demand for cosmetic surgeries and enhancements go up in recent years, attributing that to TV as well as social media.
"People are taking pictures of themselves after surgery. You see the Kardashians getting Botox on TV; you see Real Housewives getting fillers" and other procedures.
"So I think it's become more mainstream ... Everybody wants to look and feel good now. Even the younger patients [are] getting Botox to prevent some of the age-related changes like wrinkles ... We're seeing younger patients coming in for those things ... We still have a bigger population of female patients, but we are seeing more male patients come in for procedures also."
It's no surprise to Bill Yee that they flock to his wife. He compares her surgery skills to artistry. "That's not stuff that you can really learn in medical school," he says.
It's also no surprise to Nancy Chu Nelson, a retiree and volunteer whose sister is married to Yee's brother.
"She's professional, compassionate, knowledgeable, creative and a leader with strong ethical values," Nelson says. "As a cosmetic surgeon, these are the qualities that make her outstanding.
"She cares for her patients by listening to their concerns and needs. She and her patients then work on the vision in achieving what's the best way to proceed in getting the best results, be it from daily skin care, noninvasive treatments or procedures, to surgery. Her passion is to make her patients look and feel their best. Her creativeness and vision help create the dream that you are looking for."
'THE AMERICAN DREAM'
Speaking of dreams, Yee considers her family background to be "a true example of the American Dream."
Yee's parents, Margaret and Buck Wong, immigrated to the U.S. from mainland China. Buck Wong was 18 when he came to Holly Grove, the small Monroe County community where his great-uncle, who sponsored him, ran a general store. Buck, who with Margaret later purchased the store, knew her from China and was reintroduced to her when her family immigrated to the United States.
Yee, her parents and younger sister and brother lived in the back of the store, The community was supportive of the Wongs; one of their customers was Dr. Herd Stone, the family doctor, who made house calls to the store when Yee was sick. "He was really my doctor role model," she says.
Yee was 9 years old when she began working in the store with her mother after school and on weekends while her father tended to the second store her parents had bought in the neighboring town of Clarendon.
Yee's parents instilled in her the importance of education and excelling in school. "I always wanted to do well, not only for myself but for my parents, who could be proud of me," she says.
But while she was happy enough with her simple childhood, she wasn't always happy with the way she looked. She remembers wanting to have blond hair and "round eyes."
"I wanted to fit in," she says. "I think for the most part I had a normal life -- with the same insecurities most kids had."
Yee attended school in Holly Grove before transferring to Marvell Academy in Marvell. She was an active high schooler, cheerleading, playing basketball, running track ("I only ran the hurdles"). But she skipped her senior year. The summer following her junior year, she went to Fayetteville to take some college classes at the University of Arkansas. "I did really well that summer, and I thought, well, it's not that bad," she says. So she stayed in Fayetteville and continued her education there.
It was while at UA that she began dating her future husband, Bill. The two had actually walked together years earlier at a wedding, but they were shy and things were awkward, "so we just sort of avoided each other," she laughs.
When the two encountered each other again at UA, he asked her to a basketball game. That was the beginning of a decade-long, on-and-off courtship that eventually blossomed into marriage. They will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary this year.
Bill Yee, a senior vice president of commercial banking for Simmons Bank, credits their trouble-free marriage with the fact that "we came from the same background [and have the] same work ethic." His parents owned a store in Lake Village where he grew up; he, too, worked in the store as a child.
"She's my best friend," Bill says of Suzanne. "I know that I can trust her." He describes her as a loving, caring individual who does all she can to take care of her family, despite her busy work schedule; who's sensitive, fair and compassionate toward her employees; and who's down to earth -- "she's just as comfortable with me, going to Sam's, grabbing a hot dog and a Coke, as [she is with going to] a Michelin five-star restaurant."
THE SCENIC ROUTE
Yee's road to her career was, as she describes it, circuitous.
Because she excelled in math and science, her parents urged her to attend pharmacy school. After two years of pre-pharmacy studies, she did so, but then "I thought, 'Well, maybe I want to do something different.'" She decided at first on dental school, into which she was accepted after taking some prerequisite classes. But her parents advised her to complete her pharmacy studies first. She did so at Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, graduating in 1983.
Yee worked as a pharmacist for a year, then decided to go to medical school. She was accepted into the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Although medical school proved to be a major challenge she remembers being doubtful she'd overcome, she graduated first in her class of 125 in 1989.
During rotations in her third year of medical school, Yee discovered her proclivity toward surgery and especially enjoyed otolaryngology/head neck surgery. Among the many sub-specialties in the field were facial plastics and reconstructive surgery. She was exposed to, and learned from, a group of talented doctors in the field including Dr. Milton Waner, a pioneer in laser treatments and surgery. She counts some other familiar medical names in the community among her mentors ... Drs. James Suen, Mary Fazekas-May, Scott Stern and Ellery Gay.
After going through a surgery internship from 1989-1990 and a residency in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery from 1990-1994 -- both at UAMS -- and wanting to explore plastic and laser surgery more, Yee applied and was chosen for a facial plastics and reconstructive fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. She moved there to study under Dr. Russ Kridel, whom she describes as "a great mentor."
When she finished her fellowship, Yee returned to Arkansas to practice at Baptist Health. She has also served UAMS in a handful of capacities including as director of its Laser and Cosmetic Surgery Center.
PUTTING OUT HER SHINGLE
Yee went into private practice in 2003, buying Gay's assets -- taking over his existing practice when he retired -- and moving into a small building. Bill Yee made his wife write out a 25-page business plan/proposal ... a memory that sticks out for her. "This made me realize there's a lot of things I had to think about when starting a business."
Including the inevitable hardships and mishaps. Among the most memorable: a brand-new, $20,000 endoscope that was ruined because it was sterilized with heat by mistake instead of the required cold sterilization.
"Occasionally I would cry, but I would just keep on going, because you can't just dwell on those things," Suzanne Yee says. "We just weather the storms and [do] what we're supposed to do."
Today, Yee operates her practice with a "selflessness" for which she's admired by Crystal Johnston of Maumelle, her marketing coordinator.
"We have a family dynamic at our office, and it is so comforting that she treats us like family. She truly cares about her staff and makes time to get know us and our families. If we need help with a nonwork matter, she will go to great lengths to help in any way that she is able."
Yee's star began to rise in the mid-1990s. While at Baptist, she was asked to interview/audition for a spot as medical commentator for a segment on KATV, Channel 7's "Good Morning Arkansas" show. Chosen for the role, she spent about two years giving general medical advice.
"I think just doing that made me a recognizable face in Central Arkansas. Also, I am an Asian female with a Southern accent, so that probably made me more memorable."
In 1997, Yee attended the first Botox class in Dallas. She came back asking a few patients to try it out on their wrinkles. Many of her colleagues dismissed Botox as "fluff or fufu," she says, and didn't realize its effects on patients' confidence. While they scoffed, she built a sizable Botox practice.
Yee continued to rise ... and shine.
COPING WITH COVID
But, just as it did most other business, covid-19 adversely affected Yee's practice. She closed the clinic for a time, after the mandate came down not to do cosmetic surgery or even see patients.
"It was pretty scary. I didn't know whether we were actually going to open back up [or] what was going to happen," Yee says, "but our demand for procedures has pretty much increased. A lot of people, I think, have more downtime ... If they're either working from home [or] they're able to recover and work from home, they're not having to take as much time off of work. So we've had an increase in cosmetic procedures, both nonsurgical and surgical."
Yee usually gets up around 4:45 a.m. on surgery days -- which are three days a week -- and gets to the office early for last-minute administrative work. The first patient typically arrives at 6:30 for an hour of prepping and pre-surgery testing; Yee starts surgeries around 7:30 and goes until about 5 p.m. On nonsurgery days, she's giving consultations and doing nonsurgical procedures. She ends her work days doing charts and answering questions from staff and patients.
She typically returns home around 7:30 p.m. or so. The Yees still have dinner together as a family because their girls are currently at home. Addison, 24, is in medical school at UAMS; Peyton, 20, is home for the summer, looking forward to her junior year at Georgetown University.
Addison Yee sees her mother as "truly the definition of the American dream" but also someone who "is always open to learning more. And she's never too scared to laugh at herself."
Addison Yee feels fortunate to have had her mother as a role model throughout the years. "As a young woman in medicine, you're constantly faced with the question of how you will balance personal, family and work life ... I have never had to second-guess how the balancing act is possible, because I have watched her make it work my entire life."
Yee has had no time for hobbies, but she does get in some service to her community. A member of Highland Valley United Methodist Church, she supports charities and events as diverse as Apraxia Awareness, the American Heart Association (Go Red for Women and the Sweethearts program), The Links, Hope Ball, the Oscar Washington Jr. Educational Fund and the Arkansas Governor's Mansion Association. She's a regular contributor to charity silent auctions and, several years ago, was a Dancing With Our Stars contestant for the yearly benefit for the Children's Tumor Foundation.
"If you know my mom, then you know she has no rhythm at all," Addison Yee says. "Despite knowing this ... she practiced so hard, even after 12-hour days in the operating room." When performance time came, "she did so well that I hardly believed it was her. Just like everything she does in life though, she gave it her all, and she was great."
And in discussing her life, Suzanne Yee is quick to express gratefulness for her stature in the community she serves.
It's a success she owes, she says, to "having a very supportive family, a strong work ethic, compassion for patients, the ability to relate to patients, always seeking and investigating innovative and better ways to help our patients achieve their aesthetic goals -- and in addition, having an outstanding team."
Dr. Suzanne Yee
• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: July 16, 1961, Helena
• MY LIST OF PEOPLE I'D WANT TO BE STRANDED ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH: Bill Yee, my husband; and our whole family! My mother-in-law, who passed away at 101, would always get everyone together once a year. We always had a great time, and most of us get together during the Christmas holidays.
• MY GUILTY PLEASURE: Bone-in rib-eye at Arthur's Steakhouse with a souffle for dessert. Really, my guilty pleasure is watching "America's Got Talent!" I love this show. It is such a great feel-good show.
• LIFE REMINDS ME OF COSMETIC SURGERY BECAUSE: It is ever-changing. So many of our cosmetic surgery procedures are modifications in techniques. There are also new technologies, fillers and neurotoxins (Botox) that are being developed or discovered. I am constantly reading to keep up with the latest and greatest procedures. Of course, I have to make sure that the newest and greatest do what they say it will do.
• THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT COSMETIC SURGERY THAT I ENCOUNTER: Is that it is a minor procedure; that it is not "real" surgery; that it's not useful surgery and that it's fluff surgery. Cosmetic surgery can be life-changing and help or improve one's quality of life tremendously.
• BILL AND/OR MY CHILDREN ROLL THEIR EYES WHEN I: Say I am going to cook!
• IF I HAD A REALITY SHOW, I'D CALL IT: "The CrazYee Life"
• THE BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER GOTTEN (OR GIVEN): Everything is fleeting. Success is fleeting; failure is fleeting. Learn from your successes and failures and move on.
• THE LEGACY I WANT TO LEAVE FOR OTHERS WHO COME AFTER ME: To be compassionate.
• ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Tenacious