Skin Decision's Dr. Sheila Nazarian Is a Top Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon, and She's Not Done Yet
Sheila Nazarian, MD, MMM, is a board-certified plastic surgeon, founder of Nazarian Plastic Surgery in Beverly Hills, and star on the new Netflix series Skin Decision. For our column UNTOLD, she is sharing her journey from fleeing Iran as a child to becoming a top surgeon in the United States. This story was told to Jessica Harrington and edited for length and clarity.
I'm a Persian Jew, and I was born in 1979 during the Iranian revolution. Before I was born, my mom knew stuff was going to get worse, so she flew to New York when she was nine months pregnant and had me there so I would have citizenship. After I was born, we went back to Iran and the revolution was in full swing.
As Jews, there was a lot of discrimination. My dad was a physician and, in 1985, had saved the eyesight of this guy in the revolution. He later came up to my dad and said, "Listen, you saved my eyes, so I'm going to save your life. You're on the list to be killed, so you better leave within the next two days."
I was 6 and a half and my sister was 13, and this organization called Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) helped us escape. We went to a bazaar, and smugglers put us in the back of a covered truck with corn on top of us. Other people were there, too. Then, we drove across the border to Pakistan. At the border, we got into the back of pickup trucks with our luggage and escaped at nighttime. We spent three months after that waiting for our visas, then flew as a family to New York before settling in Los Angeles.
I think plastic surgery was the only part of medicine I'd want to be in.
When I first came to the United States, I was very different and got teased a lot. I was super skinny, didn't speak English — all of that stuff. I was nerdy and didn't want to tone down my smartness, so that wasn't "cool." That gave me a little bit of drive to prove people wrong. Growing up, I was really artsy and loved working with my hands. I thought maybe I could go into orthopedic surgery, but it was very cookie cutter; I didn't think it was creative enough for me. At the time, I had a friend who was like, "Well, why don't you look into plastic surgery? As a matter of fact, we have a really nice plastic surgeon if you want to go shadow for a while." So I did. It was the perfect fit for me. I always joke that if I didn't get accepted into plastic surgery, I just would have gone into the business of medicine or something — plastic surgery was the only part of medicine I'd want to be in.
I went to Columbia for economics, and in between general surgery and plastic surgery, I went to business school and got a master's in medical management at the University of Southern California at Marshall. In 2013, as soon as I was done with residency, I opened up my private practice. I had three children during residency, so I was, for lack of a better word, tired of being somebody else's b*tch. I'd already missed so much that I just thought, I really need to be on my own schedule. I knew what kind of practice I wanted to build, and that's what I did.