Outside of his busy Adelaide practice, cosmetic physician Dr Michael Molton is hitting the high notes of life (and proving his high school science teacher wrong).
In life, as in music, timing and progression are key. They’re also the driving forces behind Dr Michael Molton’s quest to live life authentically and to the fullest – from practicing cosmetic medicine and playing the guitar for his band Ferguson Avenue to crushing the (younger) competition on the squash court.
For those of you who know this Adelaide cosmetic physician, to say he dances to the beat of his own drum is a given. (How many doctors do you know who scooter to work each day?) Once a diving instructor assessor and psychiatry registrar (more on that later), here he shares first-hand his winding journey to medicine and his passion for music and adventure.
Music and medicine: A foot in both (c)amps
Family aside, what’s your first love: medicine or music?
I cannot begin to imagine what kind of person I would be today without having studied and practised medicine. In the day, I have seen so much, having spent two years in emergency, including being the sole doctor in a regional emergency department at Rockingham Hospital in WA. One day I have to write a book about those experiences. Going from there as Psychiatry Registrar at Royal Perth Hospital I saw another side to people’s lives affected by mental illness. My experiences have certainly shaped me as a doctor and as a person.
Tell me about your passion for music and where it stems from.
My mother was a professional singer, mostly jazz. She was amazing. On a Sunday night we would all gather around the piano with neighbours. She actually took me to see The Beatles in London, although I have to say she enjoyed other artists who were billed at that event even more, like legend jazz singer Cleo Lane.
I was a teenager when all the great music exploded and I was lucky enough to see live many great bands such as The Who, Cream and Pink Floyd.
When I was 15, my stepfather borrowed a Hofner President electric acoustic guitar, and naturally I got my hands on it. Three of my friends and I would play for hours in the front room with the curtains drawn, all simple stuff but fun. We got asked to play once at the local youth club but we chickened out, thinking we weren’t good enough.
Music also really helps me unwind. Most nights I’ll pick up one of my ‘axes’, either practice a riff or go on YouTube to find out how others play. I wish YouTube had been around when I was younger.
Do you think there are correlations between music and medicine?
Absolutely. When you are performing in a band, you cannot think about anything else, even if you wanted to. The same goes for the day job. Using the same analogy, in a band everyone must play in time, in tune and play/sing the right notes. Medicine is the same. You are part of a team; it’s not just about you. It’s about the patient, and the rest of the team or, in the case of music, your audience and the band members. There’s no hierarchy between skillsets whether you are a vocalist or lead guitarist, and the same goes for every member of a health team.
What instruments do you play? And what’s your favourite music style?
I play electric and acoustic guitar. My favourite is a US-built Fender Stratocaster, followed closely by a Maton acoustic which is totally amazing.
Music style, I look for are songs that have light and dark chord changes, songs that build. Songs like Angel from Montgomery, written by the recently late John Prine, and the music of Ryan (not Bryan) Adams stuff are great. John Lennon wrote some amazing songs, especially those on his Double Fantasy album.
How does music help strengthen your relationships with your family?
Janelle, my wife, plays amazing lines on bass. Our daughter Jemma gigs a lot and we rarely miss being part of the crowd. While I’m writing this, my office music is playing ‘We are Family’ – how’s that for coincidence? Sometimes I have to pinch myself when we all play together; there’s so much laughter. I guess that’s why it’s called a ‘gig’.
Where do you play (in COVID-free times)? Do you record your own music?
Our band, Ferguson Avenue, plays at functions and private parties. We played at ‘Tasting Australia’, Adelaide’s acclaimed 10-day food festival, this past May which was great fun.
Some of my favourite gigs are at The Woolshed, Rawnsley Park in the Flinders Ranges. We go for the weekend and play three or four sessions at the restaurant.
As for recording music, Janelle bought me a day’s recording time for my last birthday. With fellow muso Graeme Peek on keys, the four of us put down three covers, and I have to say we sounded pretty darn good. It was a lot of fun.
What are some of the greatest lessons and experiences music has given you?
The greatest thing is believing you can learn something you haven’t played before. There’s this riff in Wicked Game by Chris Isaak which I worked on for a hundred hours I reckon before I nailed it.
My favourite experiences: seeing Cream live, up close and personal before they really hit it big was absolutely mesmerising. Second to that was seeing live Fat Freddy’s Drop, a favourite band of all-time for me. They blow me away every time.
Who are your musical heroes?
J J Cale because of his unique style, Leon Russell for his keys performances with J J, but also with Joe Cocker (‘A Little Help From My Friends’, Woodstock) Ella Fitzgerald, and later Amy Winehouse. My ultimate fantasy band would include Bonny Raitt on rhythm guitar/vocals, Mick Fleetwood on drums, Ray Manzarek (The Doors) on keys, Steve Kilbey (The Church) on bass/vocals and B B King lead guitar/vocals. That would be legendary.
The road less travelled
How did you get into medicine?
Before medicine I was a trainer and assessor of diving instructors, which required essential knowledge of diving and subaquatic medicine. Studying medicine was a kind of natural step from there.
You entertained the idea of psychiatry during your training. What ultimately attracted you to cosmetic medicine?
It’s a bit of a personal tangle to this part of the story. Oh well, here goes. I have Poland’s Syndrome, which is the absence of a chest muscle on one side. As a young person, I was extremely self-conscious and used to drape a towel over my shoulder to hide it if I took my shirt off.
When I reached the age of 20, I went to see my GP about what could be done about this problem, who said: ‘See those people in the waiting room? They are the real sick people and you are wasting their time. It’s something you’ll need to live with’. I was devastated and humiliated at the time but since then I have developed a deeper appreciation of how appearance impacts some people.
After graduating in medicine, I was offered a training position in psychiatry, but I came to dislike the working condition and when an opportunity came up to train in hair transplantation and cosmetic laser surgery, I took it.
In hindsight, the study of psychiatry and mental health and my progression to cosmetic medicine was was just like my progression from diving to medicine.
What have been the seminal moments in your career?
In 1997, Dr Keturah Hoffman and I started the Cosmetic Physicians College of WA, and this grew very quickly. I’m not sure if many people know the title ‘Cosmetic Physician’ came from one of our earliest meetings. The greatest privilege has been to succeed Dr Doug Grose as President of the CPCA. It came at a time when I think I was fully prepared for the challenges of that position, but I have to say it wouldn’t have been possible without the undying work of my fellow Board members.
Tell me about your research into 3D/4D medical imaging to standardise B and A photos.
I have never liked before and after photos. They are misleading. You can take a motorised camera and shoot 15 frames in microseconds and they all look different. In conjunction with the University of WA and the Australian Research Council, we set about building software that would rapidly and automatically quantify changes to the facial features, which are often subtle to the naked eye. There still remains some challenges, like any research project, which are still in the works.
Let the good times roll
What do you never want to lose sight of?
It’s important to Janelle and I to always strive to inject fun into our daily lives and do things outside the box. Recently, we had a reverse sea change. We sold our place by the sea and now live five minutes from our Epiclinic practice, right in the heart of Adelaide. I think the wheel does need reinventing every now and then. It keeps you on your toes.
I’ve been told you’re a competitive squash player. Some people liken squash to chess on legs – would you agree with that?
Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a reasonable chess player (ranking about 1,200, which is intermediate, they tell me). Squash is exactly like physical chess. I cannot give it up. Chasing that little black ball doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I started playing when I was 24 so I think it is what has kept me fit and healthy. I’m still playing League comp and regularly beat guys decades younger. Typical of me, I still think I can get better…
With our borders closed, what do you miss most about international travel?
My favourite place on this planet is Aspen, Colorado – I really miss skiing Ajax, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass. Janelle prefers Niseko, which I love too.
Do you have a bucket list?
This is going to sound cheesy, but life’s pretty good and that’s good enough for me. When I graduated from medicine, I like to think this was an achievement for someone who was told by his science teacher, “Molton, you’ll never be good at anything…’ (Mind you, I was probably being stupid at the time.) Others had said I’d never make it as a diving instructor, and yet I ended up teaching people to be instructors. How could so many people be so opinionated about someone else’s capability?
The only thing I really want to do in the future, whenever I get the opportunity, is to write. I’ve been collecting information on cosmetic medicine for a while now as content. So watch this space! AMP
A few of my favourite things
My perfect weekend is… cruising McLaren Vale wineries and staying in an old stone cottage with my wife Janelle.
My favourite place to eat is… Georges on Waymouth.
My favourite car is... Aston Martin DB5 Vantage.
My favourite place to travel is… Colorado.
My favourite way to let off steam is… what else… squash!
I reward myself by… reflecting on the hand of cards life has dealt me
If I had more time I would… write. I need to write. I will write.
I’m most proud of… my work. It’s taken me a long time to realise I am actually quite good at what I do.
If I wasn’t a doctor I would be… very boring!