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Sarmela S.

AWESOME OCCUPATION

Facial Plastic Surgeon

FAVORITE SCRUBS

Catarina™/Kade™

FAVORITE COLOR

Red

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

A: I'm an immigrant. The values that were instilled in me weren’t necessarily instilled vocally by my parents, but by me watching how hard they worked. Being an immigrant really helped shape who I am.

Q: Can you tell us about yourself?

A: I'm Sarmela Sunder, and I'm a facial plastic surgeon. I've been married for almost 17 years. We have two kids. I have a ten-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son.

Q: You have two children! That’s amazing.

A: Yeah! I was pregnant with my first child in fellowship. I was also the first woman in my fellowship — my mentor had never taken a female fellow prior to me. I felt like I had to work twice as hard to prove myself to them. I was working well over 100 hours a week while pregnant!

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

A: I'm an immigrant. The values that were instilled in me weren’t necessarily instilled vocally by my parents, but by me watching how hard they worked. Being an immigrant really helped shape who I am. My family and I moved here when I was eight years old. There was a civil war in Sri Lanka, and my dad especially felt that his two daughters couldn't get the opportunities that we deserved in that environment. We moved to the US with the hope that we could do whatever we wanted. So I became a facial plastic surgeon.

Q: Can you tell us about that journey?

A: I was just focused on my goals. Whether it’s a tiny little goal or a major life goal, I didn’t lose sight of what that was and I never allowed myself to be distracted from the chatter. Staying focused on the goal has always worked in my favor, plus having a very positive and confident outlook. It’s important to have confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, if you're not confident in yourself, no one else will be.

Q: Can you describe your relationship with medicine in one word?

A: Complicated. Just like any relationship, there are moments where you're overwhelmingly in love, obsessed and infatuated with medicine, and some moments where you’re not!

Q: Why did you fall in love with medicine?

A: I love the fact that you're constantly learning and evolving. The things I learned about medicine when I was in school are now completely out of date. By the time I got to residency, it all shifted again, and again a few years later. You constantly have to evolve with medicine, and you're always learning. So I love that.

I love how challenging surgery is. I'm always asking myself how I can improve this or that technique. It allows me to grow, allows my brain to grow, allows my creativity to grow.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women in healthcare?

A: Finding balance. I'll get messages from students who say they really want to be a surgeon, but they also want to be a mom. I think, is finding that balance — for any working woman in general, but especially those in medicine and surgery.

Q: How has being a woman empowered you to thrive in your field?

A: In my industry there just aren't a lot of female plastic surgeons, definitely not very many women of color, which is so interesting to me, because most of our patients are women. So, as a female surgeon, there's this insane amount of perspective that I think I'm able to convey to a patient — I connect with them in ways a lot of male surgeons may not understand intuitively. I think it's really important for there to be more female plastic surgeons, and female surgeons in general because we're intuitively good listeners.

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