1. What things early on in your life pushed you towards a career in medicine? Did you consider any other professions?
I didn’t grow up knowing that I was going to be a doctor. This was a path I didn’t decide on until I was in college. Growing up, I was very motivated academically, which translated to hard work and good grades. There was never really anyone who had to “remind” me to do my homework or reward me for doing well at school.
I was very close to my grandfather, who was a cardiologist, but he never pushed medicine on me. I was actually very involved with music from a young age. I played multiple instruments, as well as composed and arranged music. I really thought that I was going to be a professional musician; however, I was scared by the unpredictable “gig to gig” lifestyle. I figured that I could have a predictable lifestyle and still remain in music if I worked in the business side of the music industry, which led me to study Business in college. All of this changed after taking my first college science class.
2. Do you remember the exact moment that you knew with 100% certainty that you would become a doctor?
I was in a neuroscience class in college at USC. There really wasn’t any reason, but something inside of me just told me that this is where I belonged, like a “gut feeling.” I was excited, intimidated, and relieved that I finally knew what I was meant to do. It was literally this class that made me switch my focus and career goals to medicine. In many ways, it made my life easier because I knew exactly what I had to do.
3. What were your goals, both internally and externally?
I wanted to graduate medical school, get into a competitive plastic surgery residency, complete aesthetic fellowship training, and become a board-certified plastic surgeon. I ultimately wanted to open- up my own practice to provide excellent care.
Internally, I aimed to work as hard as I could to be successful academically, so that I could pave a path for myself to be able to support myself and my family. I also wanted to be able to make a positive impact in the lives of my patients. My goal was to be a good person and a good doctor. I knew that everything else would follow.
4. What methods did you employ to accomplish your goal of becoming a successful doctor?
I majored in Business and minored in Science. In order to finish college in four years, I took summer school every single summer. In between semesters I volunteered in a research lab, instead of traveling or relaxing at the beach.
My mantra was, “The path to becoming a doctor is a marathon, not a sprint.” I really adopted this mantra. If you burn yourself out at an early age, you will never make it to the end. Or, if you do happen to make it to the end, you will be unhappy.
My wife and I have always gone on dates. We make it a priority to spend time both together and alone. We always make sure that we had a babysitter and go out on a standing date night at least one or two times per month. This has made a world of difference.
5. What epiphany did you experience while studying to become a surgeon that led you to choose aesthetic surgery?
I had no idea what kind of doctor I wanted to be when I started medical school. In the second year of med school, I was assigned to shadow a plastic surgeon. This changed everything! I saw such a wide variety of patients: breast cancer, tummy tuck, and even facial trauma patients. How could one surgeon treat so many different types of patients? This variety is what initially attracted me to plastic surgery. I noticed that the surgeons were happy, and the patients they treated were happy and grateful. This was where I needed to be.
6. What setbacks or obstacles did you encounter while pursuing your goals?
Getting a plastic surgery spot right out of med school is very competitive. When I applied, there were over 300 applicants for only 100 places. I knew that I had to be very flexible to go anywhere in the country if I got in. I was fortunate enough to get a spot at a great program in Rochester, NY. Unfortunately, this meant my wife had to give up a job opportunity in Los Angeles. It was a stressful, emotional, and exciting time for us to move across the entire country to start a new life together. It ended up being a fantastic experience that made us stronger as individuals and as a couple. I would not have traded this experience for anything.
7. What mentors do you currently have, or have you had during your career that made a lasting impact on you?
The primary mentor I have had in my professional career is my fellowship director, Dr. Jim Zins. He taught me a lot about how to approach surgery and anatomy. He is someone that genuinely loves what he does and loves teaching others. Professionally, he helped me gain confidence. I find myself repeating things to patients that I remember hearing him say.
The other group of mentors would be all of the other residents and fellows that I trained with. We learned together, we made mistakes together, we laughed together, and we grew as surgeons together. Some of these people have become life-long friends.
8. How did your journey to be a plastic surgeon change you internally?
The internal result of accomplishing what I have is much more gratifying and satisfying than I initially expected. When I was first starting this journey, I had no idea that I would become a plastic surgeon and open my own practice right out of fellowship. I literally built a business from nothing, and it worked! My plan and my goals evolved along the way. I didn’t have a master plan. In fact, my goals and plans still continue to change and evolve. I feel extremely satisfied and fulfilled with the work I do and the service I provide for my patients.
If you would like to learn more about Dr. Waltzman’s medical background and the services offered at Waltzman Plastic and Reconstructive surgery, schedule a meeting with us today!