October 21, 2018

Claude A. Hawkins, MD, FACS

Riverside Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Specialists

During his 21 years of military service and two deployments to Afghanistan, Dr. Claude Hawkins not only helped repair the most complex and devastating injuries. He also learned to work daily with physicians of all specialties on an immense and varied caseload.

Now a retired Air Force Colonel, Hawkins has transferred those skills and commitment to multidisciplinary teamwork to Riverside Health System, where since 2014 he has handled a range of reconstructive procedures with a particular specialty in breast reconstruction.

“Treatment of breast cancer can be quite complex,” he says. “There are many decisions that have to be made, and part of my job as a reconstructive surgeon is to educate patients about their reconstructive options. I try to demystify the types of surgeries and choice of implants available, as well as to explain the new developments in the field so patients can make the best choices for their situations.”

Advances in implants and fat-grafting techniques have made reconstructions more cosmetically successful, he adds: “We’re on our fifth generation of silicone implants, with improvements in both the shell and the way the shell interacts with the gel. In addition, the ability to do liposuction to harvest fat and inject it around the breast can dramatically improve contouring and shape.”

Hawkins’ other focus areas include skin cancer resection and reconstruction; abdominal wall reconstruction; soft tissue surgery for face and hands; cranioplasty; complex wound and ulcer management; lower extremity reconstruction; and skin-reducing procedures after massive weight loss.

Long interested in science, Hawkins considered becoming a high school biology teacher but decided on medicine as an undergraduate at Indiana University. He completed his medical degree at Uniformed Services University in Maryland, followed by a residency in General Surgery at Wright State University in Ohio and a fellowship in Plastic and Reconstructive surgery at Oregon Health & Science University.

Just prior to starting at Riverside, he added a year-long fellowship at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC, gaining additional experience in immediate reconstruction with tissue expanders and AlloDerm, reconstruction after nipple-sparing mastectomy, oncoplastic reconstruction, re-operative breast surgery, fat grafting and breast augmentation, mastopexy and reduction.

Hawkins’ military career earned him multiple awards, including a Bronze Star Medal for heroic or meritorious achievement or service. Stateside, he served as a Flight Surgeon at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland; Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at David Grant Medical Center in California, where he provided around-the-clock call for patients and instructed General Surgery, Transitional and Oral-Maxillofacial Surgery residents; and Commander of the Surgical Operations Squadron at USAF Hospital Langley in Hampton, where he was in charge of 219 personnel and directed operations for five operating rooms and the anesthesia department.

Early in his career, Hawkins served two years at Anderson Air Force Base Guam, where he chaired the Occupational Health Working Group. In 2007 and again in 2009, he deployed for six months to Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, a facility that provided care for American troops, coalition allies and Afghan residents caught in the crossfire.

On his first deployment, Hawkins helped establish USAF Level III medical/trauma services and supervised 31 healthcare professionals who completed some 400 surgeries. On his second, he was the sole plastic surgeon at the U.S. Trauma Hospital, receiving referrals from 11 forward operating bases. He handled more than 320 major surgical cases, including limb salvage surgery with pedicled and free flaps, facial trauma repairs and major wound debridements.

Some patients stand out more clearly in his memory, such as an Afghan girl of no more than 10 who suffered severe burns and required multiple skin grafts on her face and upper body after a home kerosene heater exploded. Or an Afghan police officer whose nose was blown off by a bomb; Hawkins worked with an ENT surgeon on a reconstruction using a complex forehead flap procedure. “We were able to correct their disfigurements pretty significantly,” Hawkins relates.

Caring for injured American soldiers was especially emotional. Once, Hawkins watched a General pin a Purple Heart on a patient. “I still get choked up thinking about that,” he says. “These were really young kids, many in their early 20s, with multi-limb traumatic amputations and other serious injuries. You realize the capacity that human beings have to work through the worst situations and never give up.”

Hawkins’ other experience includes three years as a Staff Plastic Surgeon at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in California. At Riverside, he is affiliated with multiple local hospitals and surgery centers. While about 80 percent of his work is reconstructive, he also performs cosmetic procedures such as breast and body contouring and Botox injections.

Additionally, Hawkins, a father of three, is studying for a Master of Business Administration at the College of William and Mary. There is a growing push for doctors to understand the business of medicine, he notes: “Providing excellent medical care while controlling costs is very important in hospital organizations. That’s the way you’re going to help the most people.”

In Hawkins’ specialty, helping the most people also requires working with neurosurgery, orthopedics, general surgery and other specialists on a regular basis. For him, that is a job perk.

“One aspect of reconstructive surgery that has always appealed to me is the multidisciplinary approach to patient care,” he says. “It’s truly a team effort where everyone puts different skills and experiences toward one goal: achieving the best possible outcome for each patient.”