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Plastic surgeon who trained in New England, Manhattan comes home to Buffalo

What does someone do professionally after she graduates from Boston College with a bachelor's degree in biology and a side focus in filmmaking?

Tamara Dawli parlayed that education into a career as a plastic surgeon.

"I've always been into photography and art," said Dr. Dawli, a Nardin Academy high school graduate who grew up in the Buffalo Parkside neighborhood and returned to the city from Boston to attend medical school.

Then it was off to a residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., followed by a fellowship in aesthetic surgery at New York Eye and Ear of Mount Sinai on the Lower East Side.

Dawli returned last year to open her own practice, Buffalo Plastic Surgery, in the Seton Professional Building alongside Sisters of Charity Hospital, where she was born. You can reach her office through buffaloplasticsurgery.com or by calling 821-2935.

She specializes in cosmetic surgery of the face, breasts and body for men and women. She is credentialed in the Catholic Health and Kaleida systems, as well as several surgery centers in the region.

Dawli is glad to be back home.

"When you're away for so long, you realize how much you miss it," she said.

She's also grateful for the example set by her father, Dr. Naim Dawli, a general surgeon who shares office space with her, and mother, Rima, her chief supporter during the rigors of medical training.

Q: You married your husband, Daniel Jammal, in January. He and your sister, Amy, are dentists. Your brother, Elias, works in a tech start-up. Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Tamara Dawli says she appreciates the example set by her father, general surgeon Dr. Naim Dawli, who shares office space with her on the Sisters of Charity Hospital campus; father and daughter have separate staffs. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

My dad was a big inspiration for me, to go into surgery specifically because I could see the huge impact he could have. I was able to shadow him as part of my training, to see him operate. I was able to see the business side, how you run your own practice, and I was able to see how much he cared about all his patients. Day to day, you'd go out and see his patients be so happy to run into him. As a kid, you remember those situations.

Q: Why plastic surgery?

I've had my heart set on plastic surgery since I was in med school. I was exposed to a lot of surgery when I was in Buffalo. I enjoy the dual nature of plastic surgery, the science part, the fact-oriented research part, and the amount of creativity you can have. There's such an element of art to it. It's the perfect combination. I love the variety. We operate on the human body from head to toe. Every case is different.

 Q: What and who did you miss most in your years away from home?

My family is here. My friends are here. I missed the sense of community. When I was away, everything started in terms of the city revitalization. A doctor I was working with in New York City had a patient come from Buffalo for plastic surgery who later sent him a Buffalove poster. I went into his office and said, "Even in New York, Buffalove is spreading."

Q: What do you wish most people understood better about plastic surgery?

I think there's some notion that plastic surgery is an absurd specialty, that we're going to completely change the way someone looks, make them look fake or synthetic, or unnatural. The best cosmetic plastic surgery allows somebody to look younger but also to look natural to the point where you can't really tell that somebody has had something done. The media tends to highlight people who look fake or totally overdone.

Q: What are the most common procedures that you've performed?

There are invasive and non-invasive procedures. I do both. Looking at surgery, the most common are breast augmentation, tummy tucks, facelifts and eyelid surgery. Liposuction of course. Also chest surgery for men who have excess breast tissue.

There's another side of plastic surgery, which is the non-invasive, like Botox, fillers, Kybella (which kills fat cells in the front of the neck). The mix so far has been 70 percent surgery and 30 percent non-invasive. I also do skin cancer surgeries and some reconstruction.

Q: When you're talking with somebody about changing the way they look, do you need to be part counselor? For instance, if you're talking about liposuction, do you also talk about making healthier lifestyle choices?

I try in general not to use plastic surgery as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. If you're talking about liposuction or a facelift, I try never to use that as a substitute for smoking cessation, or healthy eating or exercise. Those choices are going to help dictate your result, too. If you're not taking care of that side of things, it's harder to heal well and recover from surgery. The conversation is also directed toward what we can control, and optimizing those conditions. What's not controllable are things like natural aging, natural loss of skin elasticity or the effects of childbirth.

Q: How does the liposuction conversation go?

Liposuction isn't for global weight reduction. It's for a stubborn area that's not responding to diet and exercise. Patients are at or near their ideal weight. They're healthy. They want to alter their shape more than anything else. For liposuction, I try to make sure the patient's Body Mass Index is 30 or under.

Q: Do you recommend folks get counseling or talk with a nutritionist before liposuction? For people who come in and ask for a multitude of procedures?

First, I try to understand the motivation. If I have a sense patients are being unrealistic, or there's an underlying psychological component, our conversation naturally progresses toward other resources instead of going through with something that's not really correcting the problem. People get fascinated with the human Barbie Doll but that's not the reality of everyday plastic surgery.

Q: What is the reality for a typical patient?

A typical patient is somebody who wants to still look like themselves, just better. They don't want to look like somebody else or dramatically transform what they look like. They might want to feel and look like they did 10 years ago or 20 years ago in a way they might not have been able to do with diet and exercise.

Q: What kinds of plastic surgery are covered by health insurance?

All reconstructive surgeries and breast reconstructive surgeries are covered. Some breast reduction surgeries. It depends on someone's insurance coverage.

Q: How costly can it become otherwise?

You can have a procedure anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on what you want. It's always an elective procedure and insurance companies consider many of them unnecessary (to cover). … We do Care Credit, a national financing agency that can be used for cosmetic surgery. We accept all their plans.

Q: What are your rates here compared to what they were in Manhattan?

They're less.

Q: What have been some of the challenges and surprises along the way?

The fun surprise is how excited the medical community was to have a new plastic surgeon in town get started. I was surprised by everybody's encouragement and support and willingness to share their experience with me. That's been really instrumental. I've gotten involved with the University at Buffalo Alumni Association and a women's doctor group.

Some of the challenges have not been specific to plastic surgery: the process of setting up a practice from Ground Zero and all of the logistics that go into creating a successful practice, from designing a website, to getting the hospital credentialing to setting up an Electronic Medical Record system and hiring people. I knew it wasn't going to be easy but would be rewarding if it was successful in the end.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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