Updated January 10, 2022 | 8:33AM MST



Pictured Above: Dr. Ryan Kunkel

Albuquerque’s Newest Plastic Surgeon Describes His Journey from the Midwest to Helping Establish a Plastic Surgery Residency in New Mexico to Putting Roots Down and Starting a Practice in Albuquerque

“In surgery, whether you are performing life-saving reconstructive operations or life-enhancing aesthetic procedures, the most important component of the patient-doctor relationship is the establishment of trust. The patient and I are entering into a sacred relationship, and we must communicate well and understand each other.”

Dr. Ryan Kunkel had never seen the desert before he committed to an over half-decade-long surgery training program in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He arrived from Carmel, Indiana in 2014 after driving 1,400 miles across the country with all of his possessions in his car. Dr. Kunkel did not know what to expect from New Mexico. He looked forward to training with some of the best surgeons in the country while serving a population that had difficulty accessing this quality of medical care. “I knew I was going to receive world-class surgical training, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for fun yet.” He had read and heard about its world-class skiing and rock climbing but had yet to experience it firsthand. “I knew nobody here, so my early days involved exploring the state on my own when I had the rare day off.”

Kunkel soon developed a deep respect and appreciation for New Mexico. By working in the hospital daily, Dr. Kunkel found a profound connection with New Mexico, chile, its beauty, and its people. “I tried my best to provide patients with respect and high-quality medical care in their most vulnerable moments. I soon felt like part of this community through my bedside talks with my patients and their families.”

After spending 2 years in General Surgery, Kunkel was recruited from a 5-year General Surgery residency to join the newly established 6-year Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery residency. “I was their first resident.” Kunkel explains, “I was the most senior resident for the entirety of my training, which allowed me to get an intensive and comprehensive experience early on. I’m very proud of the residency program we were able to build.”

From Albuquerque, Dr. Kunkel ventured on to the University of Utah, where he sharpened his surgical skills in a Pediatric and Craniofacial fellowship. “Children are the most vulnerable population of patients. I felt it was important that I spend a full year concentrating on perfecting my approach to pediatric surgery.” Kunkel would spend a year performing hundreds of cleft lip and palate repairs, facial skeleton reconstructions, and repairs of misshapen skulls before hearing the call back to his new home, Albuquerque

In the summer of 2020, Kunkel returned to the Land of Enchantment to hang a shingle in Albuquerque under the business name Kunkel Plastic Surgery. His first year in business was a whirlwind. Not only did he start a new business, but married a New Mexico native and a year later, they welcomed their first daughter. It was safe to say he was an adopted Burqueño by this point.

Kunkel, now a board-certified Plastic and Reconstructive surgeon, reminisced on his journey to this point, “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans. I never would have pictured myself as a plastic surgeon in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but now that I am here, I can’t imagine any other outcome.”

As a business major focusing on entrepreneurship in the Kelley School of Business, Kunkel found starting his first business an exciting challenge. He partnered with an existing plastic surgeon, Dr. Bill Loutfy “I Incorporated Kunkel Plastic Surgery in the middle of 2020 and never looked back. Now I see patients in my clinic as well as seeing consults in every hospital in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. “

Dr. Kunkel’s now thriving practice consists of a mix of aesthetic surgery, cancer reconstruction surgery, and other plastic surgery procedures. He has quickly built a reputation for excellent, patient-centered medical care. “At the end of the day, I demand absolute perfection from myself in the operating room.” Dr. Kunkel also realizes that patients need clear expectations and sometimes some extra reassurance. “My staff and I make sure patients are as well-informed as possible and always have direct access to us if they have concerns before and after surgery.”

When Dr. Kunkel is not treating patients in the clinic or the Operating Room, you’re likely to find him in the mountains with his family and dog. “I came to Albuquerque for training in surgery, but I stayed for the New Mexican lifestyle. I have now started a family in this state, and I love the people here. I would be hard-pressed to find a better place to live.”