Category Archives: RealSelf Stories

RealSelf Fellowship Assists Project Medishare’s Haiti Efforts

For 15 years, Dr. Seth Thaller and his team with Project Medishare have taken humanitarian medical trips to Port Au Prince, Haiti, every quarter. Some trips have been postponed due to social, political, or environmental factors, but whenever the barriers clear, the Miami-based doctor and his team are back helping the community.

Dr. Thaller’s team has treated hundreds of patients on these trips. Most need surgery for cleft lips, cleft palates, or significant burn injuries, patients with issues so severe that they struggle to adapt to regular society. Patients just like the 38-year-old woman Dr. Thaller treated on his most recent visit to Haiti. The woman suffered from a cleft lip. She complained of breathing issues and had trouble eating. She talked about the shame she felt from her facial appearance and how often she noticed people staring. A mother of two, the woman dealt with the issue her entire life.

Now, the woman never has to be ashamed again.

The woman was one of 22 patients Dr. Thaller’s team operated on during a recent trip to Port Au Prince. Although the trip was a familiar one for Dr. Thaller, there was a change this trip. This time Dr. Thaller traveled as a member of the inaugural class of the RealSelf Fellowship. The RealSelf Fellowship awards funding for medical professionals donating their time and expertise to deliver care and training in underserved communities around the world. Project Medishare is entirely self-funded and relies on programs like the RealSelf Fellowship to make these trips possible.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There is desperate need for improved medical care. Not only for reconstructive surgical care, but for even routine, basic healthcare. Patients travel from all over the country just for the chance to receive care from visiting doctors. The trips are not only vital to the patients who undergo operations, but also for training and improving the standard of care.

“We have definite plans to continue our enduring promise to our Haitian neighbors,” Dr. Thaller said in an interview with RealSelf.

The procedures Dr. Thaller and his team performed don’t just fix issues, they change lives. The conditions can be debilitating and fixing them can be a platform to return to society whether it’s a child returning to or starting school, or an adult getting back into the workforce.

To make a sustainable impact, the effort needs to go beyond performing a couple dozen surgeries once a quarter. That’s why education is such a focus of the trips. Dr. Thaller said his staff works with the local care providers to assist in pre- and post-operative care. They also work with local surgery residents.

“They were able to closely observe our surgeries, and we could teach them directly,” Dr. Thaller said.

“You will always get more from these trips then you are giving,” he said.

Learn more about the RealSelf Fellowship and how to apply here.

RealSelf Joins Food Lifeline During National Volunteer Week

Every year, millions of pounds of food goes to waste in Seattle. We’re not talking about the avocado you forgot in the back of your fridge. We’re talking about good food from restaurants, grocery stores, manufacturers, and farmers.

Food Lifeline works to reduce that waste, rescuing more than 44 million pounds of food last year alone, and redirecting it to more than 275 food banks, shelters, and meal programs.

Sorting and repacking that much food requires a lot of help, and this week the RealSelf Local Giving team chipped in. After learning about the Food Lifeline operation and touring the facility, a few of our employees got to work sorting pears.

A lot of pears.

Additionally, as part of National Volunteer Week, it was perfect timing for the RealSelf team to support our community. Their efforts will go beyond Volunteer Week, and they are already planning philanthropic activities for summer and fall.

Food Lifeline has flexible and family-friendly volunteer hours. There are opportunities during the day and at night during the week and on the weekend. The robust operation is part of the reason why Food Lifeline is able to provide 90,000 meals every day, accounting for 30 percent of the meals served by food programs in Seattle.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Food Lifeline, you can register on their website.

Want to work for one of Seattle’s best companies? We’re hiring! Apply to join our team today.

#RealSelfLife: 21 Questions With Amber From Sales

If you met Amber for the first time, it might be hard to see her as anything other than a star member of the RealSelf sales team.

One of our most successful doctor advisors, Amber has had many roles at RealSelf, including digital marketing specialist in PR, and an audience-engagement specialist on our Community team.

We know that Amber is making the most of the opportunity to grow at RealSelf, but what do we really know about her?

Amber sat down with us for the first installment of 21 questions with your RealSelf co-workers. Let’s get to know her better.

What is your favorite snack in the office?
String cheese or beer

What was your favorite TV show growing up?
Dick Van Dyke

Where do you want to go on your next vacation?
Indonesia

Where is your favorite place to go for lunch in Pioneer Square?
Pho Fuchsia

If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?
Invisibility

Who are three people alive or dead you’d want to have dinner with?
Oprah, Beyoncé, and Chelsea Handler

iPhone or Android?
iPhone

Twitter or Instagram?
Instagram

What is one skill you wish you had?
Singing

When you were 5, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A lawyer

What is your favorite food?
Popcorn

What is one thing you’ve never done in Seattle that you want to do?
Scuba dive

What three things do you keep in your fridge or pantry at all times?
Cholula hot sauce, Parmesan cheese, and wine

What is your favorite holiday?
Halloween

What toppings do you like on your pizza?
Meat, garlic, and extra cheese

Do you pronounce GIF with a hard G or like GIF or a soft G like JIF?
GIF

Who is your favorite musician?
Prince

Is a hot dog a sandwich?
No, it’s more like a taco

What was your first job?
Selling Dish Network and DirecTV in a creepy call center

What is one thing in the world you think is underrated?
The cinematic film Madagascar

Which one of your co-workers would make the best president?
Kirsten Mann

Want to work for one of Seattle’s best companies? We’re hiring! Apply to join our team today.

RealSelf Fellow Raises the Level of Care in Nicaragua

The scene inside the hospital in Managua, Nicaragua, is a familiar one for Dr. Patrick Byrne. Dozens of young children need care for cleft lips, cleft palates, severe burns, and other issues. Some have traveled from other parts of the country–the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere–for a chance to receive care from visiting doctors.

A plastic surgeon in Baltimore, Dr. Byrne, started making humanitarian trips to Nicaragua in 2009. This time, there are a few familiar faces in the crowd. Three patients from a previous visit have returned. They aren’t seeking additional medical care. Instead, they came to thank the doctors who changed their lives.

Miguel is a young man who suffered severe burns. A lover of baseball, he was unable to play due to his injuries. That was until Miguel received a microvascular tissue transfer on his neck and chest to restore mobility and function. Now, Miguel is able to play baseball and hold down a steady job.

“It was just a smile and hug fest,” Dr. Byrne said in an interview with RealSelf.

Dr. Byrne has taken similar trips all over the world. In recent years, his efforts have been focused in Nicaragua. He is the co-director of the Greater Baltimore Cleft Lip and Palate team. His team has partnered with Aproquen to provide care to those in need and establish a standard of care comparable to what patients receive in the United States.

“It’s unbelievable how sophisticated our effort is now,” he said.

Photo courtesy: Dr. Patrick Byrne

In addition to performing cleft lip and palate surgeries, Dr. Byrne’s team has added dental care, nutrition, orthodontic care, speech therapy, and other services. 

It’s no longer a situation where visiting doctors parachute in and perform as many surgeries as possible. Dr. Byrne and his team are establishing guidelines, training local providers, and using technology to help provide aftercare. That includes a telemedicine program for speech therapy.

Dr. Byrne said the current operation is a “night and day” difference from when he first started visiting Nicaragua. Back then, he would see many poor outcomes from previous surgeries. Patients didn’t receive the full care they needed. Basic medical records were limited or nonexistent. 

“You see a kid who was operated on by some other team at some other time, and they look pretty bad,” Dr. Byrne said. “There are no op notes, no record, you have no idea who did what when. Now it’s pretty close to the type of clinic you’d see in the United States.”

Recent efforts have improved the sustainability of care. Dr. Byrne’s team trained a local physical therapist who has become better at cleft speech therapy than many speech therapists in the United States who rarely perform cleft therapy. The advances in speech therapy, complication rate, and overall success have been staggering.

On his most recent trip to Nicaragua in February, Dr. Byrne traveled as a RealSelf Fellow. The RealSelf Fellowship awards funding to medical professionals who donate time and expertise to deliver care and training in underserved communities around the world.

“The gift is really meaningful,” he said. “That goes a long way on a trip like this.”

Photo courtesy: Dr. Patrick Byrne

On this trip, Dr. Byrne operated on about 20 new patients, but the work is hardly complete. He and his team are still busy trying to elevate the standard of care and help establish a sustainable system by working with local hospitals to collect data, using technology to reduce the gap in care, and training local providers.

They are also planning to visit Nicaragua two times per year, up from one.

“Since we’ve been involved and developed all of these programs, word has gotten out,” Dr. Byrne said. “Families and doctors from all over Nicaragua send their kids to the group.

“It’s great, but we need to keep up with the demand.”

Learn more about the RealSelf Fellowship and how to apply here.

RealSelf kicks off book program with ‘The Upstarts’ about the new rules of Silicon Valley

What are the new rules when it comes to being successful in tech? This week, RealSelf staffers got a firsthand look with our new reading program RealSelf Reads and Brad Stone, author of the new book The Upstarts

As a veteran journalist covering Silicon Valley for Bloomberg news, Stone visited RealSelf to talk about his latest book and participated in a wide-ranging conversation about Airbnb and Uber, and how these groundbreaking companies are rewriting the rules of tech. He covered topics ranging from how to build a brand, to flying cars, and other emerging technologies.

Stone specifically talked about how both companies are ushering in a new era and redefining the way millions of people travel. He pointed out that neither Airbnb or Uber were the first to explore their markets — they just did it better than their predecessors. Both companies achieved success by finding and connecting with large audiences with needs and providing the best experiences to satisfy those needs.

“When you create an alternative that people love, and present them with new economic options where the options are very constrained, they’ll flock to your brand,” he said.

Why talk about Airbnb and Uber? As recent upstarts that have gone global, there are a few ways RealSelf can benefit from their playbooks.

Stone stressed the importance of building trust with your audience to succeed, adding that companies need to embrace that responsibility and “walk in their customers’ shoes” to understand what they really want.

As for flying cars? Stone had some good news for everyone commuting into the office.

“Everyone from West Seattle will be flying into work pretty soon.”

We’re hiring! Look over our career ops and apply today.

RealSelf ranked No. 29 for top company culture by ‘Entrepreneur’

The workplace accolades keep coming. Entrepreneur magazine ranked RealSelf No. 29 on a list of large companies exhibiting the qualities of top company culture.

‘Entrepreneur’ March issue

Partnering with Culture IQ, software that helps improve company culture, Entrepreneur features The 2017 Top Company Cultures list, a comprehensive ranking of 153 U.S.-based businesses exhibiting high-performance cultures. Companies earned a place on the list based on 10 areas that predict top cultures: agility, collaboration, innovation, communication, support, wellness, work environment, responsibility, performance, and mission alignment.

“A high-performance culture leads not only to employee engagement, but also to measurable business results,” says Greg Besner, founder and CEO of CultureIQ. “These organizations show us that great companies start with great culture.”

RealSelf was ranked among 50 large companies with at least 100 employees. Small companies of 25-49 employees and medium companies with 50-99 employees were also ranked. The rankings were determined by employee surveys measuring the aforementioned 10 core components.

Creating and maintaining a strong company culture has been a priority at RealSelf since the company was founded. CEO Tom Seery said the company has worked to establish a culture where employees can be themselves, and work in an environment that makes them want to come back every day.

This is the third honor we’ve received for company culture in recent months. RealSelf was ranked No. 5 on Seattle Business Magazine’s Top Midsize Companies list. It was ranked No. 17 on Glassdoor’s 2017 Employees’ Choice Best Place to Work list.

Want to join one of Seattle’s best companies? We’re hiring!

RealSelf Fellow Changes Lives in Guatemala

As one of our first RealSelf Fellows, we were excited to talk with Dr. Larry S. Nichter about his recent volunteer trip. The Orange County plastic surgeon traveled to Guatemala and Cuba with the Plasticos Foundation in November.

This visit to Guatemala is Dr. Nichter’s latest in a long-standing relationship among Plasticos, Dr. Nichter, and the local medical community. In Guatemala, Dr. Ernesto Cofino was introduced to Plasticos through his local nonprofit group, Angeles en la Terra (Earth Angels). From their first meeting in the 1990s, Dr. Nichter was impressed by Dr. Cofino’s commitment to helping his fellow Guatemalans access much-needed reconstructive surgery.

Why Guatemala?

Photo courtesy of the Plasticos Foundation

Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America, but there is no plastic surgery training program. Dr. Nichter shares RealSelf’s belief that medical professionals can make a dramatic difference in these communities by helping build sustainable surgical resources. By working with local doctors, these efforts also help build self-sufficiency and reduce dependence on foreign care.

On trips to Guatemala, Dr. Nichter works with Dr. Cofino to show him how to correct progressively more difficult deformities. During Dr. Nichter’s last visit, Plasticos received a specific request to show doctors there how to make an ear.

Treating a condition called microtia, which causes children to be born without an ear, is one of the most complex reconstructive surgeries that can be performed. But with the help of the Plasticos doctors, Dr. Cofino performed his first procedure to treat this condition by the end of this trip.

Teach a Man to Fish or Build an Ear

“To have a significant impact you need to foster training of local medical personnel and support them to become independent over time,” Dr. Nichter said. “Just like the Chinese proverb, ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.’

“After we leave, surgeons continue to operate on many children with conditions they were once fearful [of] or could not treat,” he added. “That way our efforts are leveraged, multiplying the number of patients taken care of.”

Eventually, Dr. Nichter hopes to work with Dr. Cofino to start the first plastic surgery residency program to tackle the immense demand for reconstructive surgery in Guatemala. For now, he’s satisfied with the knowledge that he’s changing young lives.

“To have a child at that young age desire and look forward to the surgery and try to smile through the discomfort,” Dr. Nichter said. “Tells volumes.”

What is the RealSelf Fellowship?

The RealSelf Fellowship awards funding to medical professionals who donate their time and expertise to deliver care and training in underserved communities around the world.

Learn more about the RealSelf Fellowship and how to apply here.

Meet RealSelf Business Analyst Meredith Miller

We have a talented work crew at RealSelf, and occasionally, we’ll feature an employee who makes our team even more incredible every day.

Meet Meredith Miller, a business analyst on our growth and analytics team. In addition to her strong math background, Meredith has long held a passion for analyzing data, even as a kid comparing her swim times to her competitors (more on that later).

A Seattle native and graduate of the University of Delaware, Meredith has a bachelor’s degree in the science of economics, with minors in math and Spanish, plus an master’s degree in economics.

Meredith has been at RealSelf just over a year, but is already an essential part of the team. Here she talks about her background, what she does at RealSelf, and what everyone who’s thinking about a career in data should know:

How did you get into analytics?

I’ve always been very good at mathematics and statistics, so studying economics was a natural choice in college, as I wanted to find a field that combined math and practical applications.  

What did you do before joining RealSelf?

I worked in the economic research group at Zillow doing housing market research and managing data production. I previously interned at the U.S. Department of Agriculture economic research service doing research into the assets and debts of low-income households and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participation in between stints in graduate school.    

meredith-millerWhat made you decide to join RealSelf?

I was referred by a former colleague who thought that I would get along well with Alan [Treanor], the VP of growth and analytics. I was especially intrigued by the possibility of joining a much smaller, still-developing organization and to have the opportunity to make an immediate impact on the business. I liked that the company was still growing and learning, and I would be able to help figure things out as we evolve.

What’s your typical day like?

I spend the morning doing small things I can get done, like addressing requests from PR and other teams. Then I look at longer-term projects. I’ve been helping the product managers put together insights about new features we’re launching, especially in the app.

What’s been key to your career development?

What’s helped me out is that I’m naturally inquisitive and persistent. Being inquisitive is great personality trait for an analyst. I always want to know the “why” behind the “what” when we see things happen on the site, and find the logical explanation behind the numbers.

As for the being persistent, I think that you have to be patient, but my success as an analyst is really determined by the quality of the information in accuracy and succinctness I can provide to the product managers, and if I can give the people I’m working with clear, actionable insights into the questions they’re asking.

Meredith kicks back with the other Meredith (Russian) at the 2016 Ragnar race.

Meredith kicks back with the other Meredith (Russian) at the 2016 Ragnar race.

What do you always find surprising when analyzing data?

I just did a lot of research into trends in Seattle and Portland [Ore.], and you can definitely see a difference in interest with us in the Pacific Northwest and what we’re seeing in trends nationally. I thought it was really interesting to see a lot of things people in the Portland and Seattle area do research on have to do with the face/neck, as compared to the more body-specific procedures in other places.

One thing that is generally interesting for me is to learn more about innovation and the science in surgical and nonsurgical industries. People are constantly trying to improve their surgical techniques and make them more effective, and in the non-surgical space, a lot of research goes into creating those products and making them more effective as well.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in analytics?

I’d definitely say to have a strong background in math and statistics. I kind of had a weird elementary school experience in that we didn’t follow a particular curriculum, but did a lot of math and science and logic puzzles. I did a lot of math classes in high school and college and grad school, too.

I always loved numbers. When I was a kid, I was on the swim team, and I would research the times of the others I would be swimming against because I would want to see how fast I would need to swim to win. I like to win.

We’re hiring! If you’re a business analyst don’t hesitate to get on board with Meredith’s team by applying to be our next Senior Business Analyst or Business Analyst.

Cancer Took My Breasts. Reconstruction Helped Me Move On.

Pre-chemo hair shearing.

The week I started chemo, I got my hair shaved off and made into a wig.

Our employees have incredible backstories. Community Manager Mari Malcolm shares her experience with breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I’d just turned 35 when I found a lump in my right breast. My doctor told me I was so young that it was probably nothing. It took a few months before I admitted to myself I should probably get that optional mammogram.  

My original diagnosis was stage IV. Thankfully, I was really only late stage III, so I’m still here. But the tumor was so big and close to my chest wall they had to shrink it with five months of chemo before they could do the mastectomy. They took so much tissue, I was left with pretty much just skin over ribs.

The first time I peeled back the bandage, my knees buckled and I had to sit down, which my surgeon said was totally normal. Nurses would compliment me on the neatness of my scar, but I felt like I had been (very necessarily) mutilated.

I kept working through most of my treatment and recovery, often from the hospital. In an environment where showing weakness wasn’t a smart career move, I went to the office in a wig, missing eyebrows and eyelashes, trying to hide how tired I was with makeup.

I was honest about my cancer, but I wasn’t comfortable with most people knowing I’d lost my breast. For a year and a half, I wore a prosthetic pocketed into a bra and avoided low necklines.

Breast Reconstruction Isn’t a Given

Whenever I see stark black-and-white photos of breast cancer survivors baring their mastectomy scars, and I’m in awe of their badassery.

Choosing to live without breasts in this culture is an act of defiance and intense self-love. When I’ve talked with women who decided against reconstruction, they’ve told me that by the time they’d finished cancer treatment, they were sick of surgeries and just wanted to move on.

After five months of chemo, three surgeries, and six weeks of daily radiation, I understood this.

But also I suspected reconstructive surgery would help me move on in the way I needed to. In my oncologist’s waiting room, I’d met a fiftysomething woman in for a follow-up. She heard about my upcoming mastectomy and came this close to taking her top off to show me her new breasts. “Look, they’re so perky!” she enthused, giving them a squeeze.

After that, I knew if I made it to the other side, I’d get new breasts. I wanted a reality where I didn’t have to think about cancer every day. Continue reading

RealSelf Turns 10: Staffers Share How It’s Changed Over the Past Decade

Ten years ago, RealSelf launched in CEO Tom Seery’s spare room. Today, we’re a fast-growing company with over 130 employees located in Pioneer Square.

Getting from there to here has certainly been an interesting ride. From the early days of bringing your own fork to work (huh?), to champagne toasts of today, it’s been quite the journey. We have employees who have been here from the very beginning, to newbies who’ve only been here a few months. For our 10-year anniversary, we asked them to tackle two big questions: “What was RealSelf like when you started” and “What has changed the most?”

rs-baseball

RealSelf Community staff attend a Mariners game.

Sharon Walls, Community Engagement Manager

Years at RS: 10 

What was it like? RealSelf was still finding itself when I started. My first article was about SPF labels on sunscreen! The site was based around articles and first-person “as told to” stories. We were less focused on elective surgery and more focused on what women did to look their best.

Tom always had the mission to empower consumers through information.

What has changed? The site evolved from a single perspective (via articles), to having consumer reviews and doctor tips, which became the Q&As. I think the doctor involvement is what makes RealSelf truly unique. Consumers can get perspectives from fellow community members and also professional opinions from healthcare professionals all in one place.

Peter Krengel, Manager of Analytics

Years at RS: 3

What was it like? When I interviewed at the office near the ferry, they had just moved and there were half as many applicants as employees in the office that day because the phone lines hadn’t been installed yet.

What has changed? What’s changed the most is the sheer volume of work and progress the company is able to make on a daily basis. Going from 20 employees to 130 is nuts.

realself-spa-day

Doctor Advisors at a spa day.

Maureen Ezekwugo, EVP Doctor Community

Years at RS: 6

What was it like? When I started in 2010, RealSelf was mainly unknown. Traffic was at 900K unique users a month, there were only about 1,000 claimed doctor profiles, our revenue model was fueled by Google AdSense, and Tom Seery carried a pink water bottle around to each meeting. There was no coffee at the office. No snacks, not even a fork.

You had to bring your own fork.

What has changed? Unique users have increased 10X, claimed doctor profiles are up over 12X, and we no longer have any reliance on Google AdSense to pay the bills. We have ample snacks, coffee and beer, a great following by both consumers and doctors, and Tom Seery has upgraded to La Croix and Talking Rain.

Most importantly, the talent and experience on our team has grown exponentially and continues to expand with some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with in my career.

realself-ragnar

RealSelf staffers ran Ragnar, a 200-mile relay race through the Pacific Northwest.

Meredith Russian, Manager, Administrative & Billing Operations

Years at RS: 6

What was it like? When I started, there were seven of us in the office. There were a very conservative amount of office supplies. No one had monitor stands, so we’d stack up reams of paper. The only office snacks were coffee (if Maureen made it) and Talking Rain. There were basically three departments: Sales (four people), then the Dev team (two), and Community.

What has changed? The biggest change has just been the displays of generosity from RealSelf to its employees. The bigger and more successful we’ve become, the more RealSelf has been able to bless its employees.

Charlie Chu, Doctor Advisor

Years at RS: 1

What was it like? I started in July in 2015 and instantly loved the atmosphere and culture. I think we were around 60 people, maybe less?

What has changed? We are growing so quickly and it is exciting! The Doctor Advisor team has grown and developed a ton. When I started, we only sold doctor spotlights. Now we have a new and improved model, invited non-core doctors, renewed almost all our doctors, added business pages, and new treatments.

I love how our team and company is able to grow, adapt, and make an impact!

Debra Gravelle, Doctor Advisor

Years at RS: 4

What was it like? I was the fifth advisor on the team, and it was a very close-knit group. Because I am remote they keep a hangout open so I was always with the team. Even on a bad hair day.

What has changed? The number of employees has increased so much in four years that when I make my quarterly visits I always think, “When did all of these people show up” So now I get to be on a hangout for meetings and trainings, but don’t show my face any more because a bad hair day is my new norm.

Anthony Mendonca, VP of Engineering

Years at RS: 5

rs-office-1
What was it like? Much smaller! This is a photo of the developers’ office, just enough room for the four engineers we had at the time. This wasn’t even the first office, just two months before this, we had one developer, and we were squished into an even smaller office with everyone else.

real-self-photo-2

What has changed? Aside from the growth itself, it’s been amazing to see how our culture has flourished with every new team member that’s come aboard. I’m happy to be a part of this family.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-10-21-02-am

CEO Tom Seery.

Tom Seery, CEO

Years at RS: 10

What was it like? I liked that I got to work with my wife for the first, and probably last, time.

What has changed? My perspective on our purpose. It was an idea to empower consumers, and now is one that is about delivering on our mission to instill greater confidence.

See more of our 10-year anniversary celebration via #RealSelfLife on Twitter, and be sure to check out our Careers page and learn more about how you can help shape our next 10. 

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