Dr. William Rahal: “Surround yourself with people you admire”

I’ve found that the greatest way to spark joy in your life is through spiritual, emotional, physical and mental cultivation. The first thing I do every morning is reflect on three things I am grateful for. Practicing gratitude makes you more thankful for the life you have. I also recommend going to sleep early and […]

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I’ve found that the greatest way to spark joy in your life is through spiritual, emotional, physical and mental cultivation. The first thing I do every morning is reflect on three things I am grateful for. Practicing gratitude makes you more thankful for the life you have. I also recommend going to sleep early and waking up early. I find doing so increases my energy and helps me tackle the day. Finally, I always try to watch either the sunrise or sunset everyday. It provides tranquility and cultivates an appreciation for the world around me.

As part of my series about healthcare leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. William Rahal.

Dr. William Rahal is a board-certified plastic surgeon who specializes in breast and body enhancement procedures. One of the most in-demand and trusted plastic surgeons in Los Angeles, Dr. Rahal is renowned for his signature 360 Lipo with BBL treatment, which combines a Brazilian Butt Lift surgery and Liposuction to achieve an hourglass figure.

Dr. Rahal is a member of American Society of Plastic Surgeons and he holds hospital privileges at Cedar Sinai Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?

Thank you for having me! Have you ever seen those ten years old kids dressed up as doctors for Halloween? That was me. The only difference is that in my case, it was on multiple Halloweens. During high school I received the superlative for “the next Doogie Howser.” Finding my speciality, though, came down to personality fit. I never liked delivering bad news and in many other specialties as a physician, you are treating people with health issues and bad news is sometimes part of that. Plastic surgery, on the other hand, is a profession where you are improving a patient’s confidence and quality of life.

I began my career in medicine by attending medical school in Puerto Rico. I knew that if I wanted to study plastic surgery in the contiguous United States I needed to be in the top 1% of performers on my exams. I was so determined that I taped a list of the top programs in front of me at my desk. Anytime I studied, this “vision board” was staring right back at me. Studying paid off and I made it into the top .01% percentile.

With this result, I was convinced that I would be accepted into the program of my dreams. But life had other plans and I got rejected. I scrambled to quickly find a spot I could get into, and ended up doing my preliminary residency in Chicago for the next year. Being rejected from my dream program motivated me to buckle down even more. My plan was to start with my general practice residency and work my way into plastic surgery. I started interviewing again and made it to the third round of interviews with an Ivy League school. At that time, I had completed my general and plastic surgery rotations with them and had been working seven days a week for months. The interviewer was very impressed with my work ethic but wouldn’t give me a job because I had started my career in Puerto Rico. I was devastated. After proving my dedication to this career, it didn’t matter to them because of where I started out. It was a very sobering moment but it taught me humility and gave me a glimpse of what I would be up against in this line of work.

I went on to accept a general surgery job at Montefiore in the Bronx, New York. I hoped to fast track my career so I decided to apply for a fellowship, which would allow me to do my plastic surgery rotation in my second year. Normally, a surgeon practices for five years, followed by a year or two of research before applying for a fellowship. I was hoping to do this after a year and a half.

My chances of receiving the fellowship came down to one doctor who was the decision maker, but he refused to speak with me about my plan. Persistence took over. I decided I would sit outside of his office as long as it took for him to speak with me. It took 14 hours before he would agree to meet with me. I explained my plan and implored him to help. He recognized my drive and following the meeting, I applied for, and received the fellowship. I went on to complete three years of my plastic surgery residency and then decided to move to Beverly Hills. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I knew if I could make it here, I could make it anywhere. I thought of it like athletes that make it to the professional level — I felt being surrounded by the top surgeons in Beverly Hills would bring out the best in me.

While I was convinced of this, I wasn’t making enough money to pay for my rent, car and also afford food. Thankfully, my family, who has firsthand knowledge of my drive to pursue this career, offered to help with my rent for six months. Fast forward to December of 2015 when I am able to start performing surgery on my own. The next month was the first time I could afford to fully support myself. By 2017 I hired my first employee, and in 2018 I got an office space. By 2020, there were multiple surgeons working at the practice and we began expanding the practice.

After 2016 I felt like I finally hit my stride but it certainly wasn’t an overnight success. I reinvested every dollar we made back into the business for the first two years and didn’t take time off for three years. It wasn’t until 2018 that we saw a profitable month, not because of a lack of patients, but because I kept investing in the business. I took all of the company’s excess earnings of 2018 and put it into our new office space. I wanted to create an experience patients would love. And our office is part of it. Thankfully, since then the business has continued to grow into something I built from scratch and am extremely proud of.

Can you share the interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The Covid-19 pandemic was something I never could have anticipated but it forced businesses, including mine, to pivot and adapt. I researched companies that survived and thrived during the Great Depression for insights. IBM became my inspiration. While other companies downsized, IBM took the opposite route. Their management decided to keep their entire staff employed, which meant they had to innovate and enter new markets. This commitment to their staff and to business results worked. They were the only company to expand during this trying era.

We decided to take a similar approach at my practice. We are a family. There would be no lay-offs. In business, I feel employees should be treated as your assets not your liabilities. If you treat them as assets it creates a feeling of positive moral and mutual respect.

To drive business results during this crisis, we set new goals, changed our marketing strategy and utilized our staff to the best of our ability. For example, one of my surgical techs, a single mom, was going to be out of a job because we could not perform any surgeries. But, we were committed to keeping everyone on and created a new role for her in the interim to ensure she had employment.

We also looked at the numbers of how many surgeries were booked each month and said to the staff that the following month we were going to book more surgeries than we ever had before. This was in April 2020, the height of the pandemic. That month we hit a new record for our business. It was a team effort that showcased the spirit of this company and brought us closer together.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think mistakes are a means for improvement. If people ask how I became successful, I don’t tell them what I did rather than the mistakes I made. It doesn’t mean people will avoid making mistakes but it provides them with the toolkit of knowing what to do when they happen.

While it’s not necessarily a mistake, there is a funny story that happened when I was in Chicago. I was so convinced that I’d be in New York City the next year that I didn’t buy a single item of furniture. I thought “why invest if I know I won’t be here this time next year?” My apartment was barren, empty, except for a mattress on the floor and a single plate, fork and knife. Entertaining friends was always a good laugh. Thankfully it all worked out as I received an offer from Montefiore a year later. Moving out was easy! All I had to do was pack my clothes into two suitcases.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

I have a couple exciting projects in the works that I can speak to. First, I am creating a foundation for residents at Montefiore, my former hospital. I don’t want to give away too many details just yet, but the hope and goal is to introduce a program that provides training and mentorship to plastic surgery residents. We’re also planning some exciting additions to my current practice that will reinforce our commitment to our patients and ensure we are providing the best and latest treatment options.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My brother, George, and I have always had a close relationship. He’s been by my side my entire journey and we still work together today. He’s provided me with emotional, mental and business support. Anytime I have felt overwhelmed or disappointed after my plans didn’t work out the way I hoped, he reminded me why I was pursuing this career and encouraged me to keep going.

Is there a particular book that made an impact on you? Can you share a story?

One of my favorite books is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. My brother recently reminded me of a story when he was visiting me during residency. We went to the hospital’s food court and he said he distinctly remembers my conversation with a woman on staff. I recalled small details about her life and asked about her family and children by name. She told my brother that all the staff “loves Dr. Rahal”. The biggest takeaway for me was to become genuinely interested in other people’s lives versus wanting them to take interest in yours. This same philosophy applies to me as a surgeon. Instead of trying to get patients interested in me as their plastic surgeon of choice, I take genuine interest in them, their desired results, and their happiness. They choose me because they know they can trust me and my practice to take good care of them.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to bring goodness to the world in a few different ways. The first is by providing a meaningful difference in my patients lives’ through my work. It is so rewarding to help them achieve more self-esteem and confidence. I am also a mentor to other doctors and advise them on how to succeed in this field. I work very closely with my former hospital, Montefiore, to give back through education and financial contributions as I hope to help current residents have the best training and equipment they need and deserve. Finally, I try to be a multiplier and ask how I can contribute to others in the best way. When they invest in themselves they often want to help someone else to pay it forward. After the trials and tribulations I faced in my career, it has always been important to me to help others reach their goals.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant to you in your own life?

My favorite quote is “the eye cannot see what the mind does not know”. This quote reflects how I approach my work as well as the other passions in my life. During my time off I review medical and plastic surgery textbooks to try to perfect the skill and artistry involved in surgery. Most recently, a textbook on Brazilian Butt Lifts, of course. I feel this quote is universal. It applies to everything from style, design, food, culture, travel, and how you interpret the world. I’m obsessed with detail because the more I know about something, the more I appreciate it. When you understand the concepts and inner workings of something, it’s hard to extract yourself from a feeling of connection and veneration.

Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help people feel great?

I’ve found that the greatest way to spark joy in your life is through spiritual, emotional, physical and mental cultivation. The first thing I do every morning is reflect on three things I am grateful for. Practicing gratitude makes you more thankful for the life you have. I also recommend going to sleep early and waking up early. I find doing so increases my energy and helps me tackle the day. Finally, I always try to watch either the sunrise or sunset everyday. It provides tranquility and cultivates an appreciation for the world around me.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each)

  • Specialize in your field: Specializing is the best way to give patients their ideal results and gain their trust. When you specialize, they know you have studied and trained for this specific procedure for years and have done it thousands of times. This in turn gives them the assurance that you are the best person they could see for the treatment. I recently walked into an operating room and a new surgical tech said to me, “You’re the doctor who invented 360 Lipo!” That’s certainly not the case, but it comes to show the impact that specialization can have on how you are recognized.
  • Surround yourself with people you admire: It’s so important to have the right people around you in both your personal and professional life. There’s a saying that goes “look at your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” The people who surround you have a huge impact on your life and that can be in a positive or negative way.
  • Communication is key: In the doctor patient relationship communication is crucial for understanding what a patient wants. I always try to guide them in a direction that makes the most sense instead telling them what to do. I find the happiest patients are the ones who have an open dialogue with their surgeon which is why, in addition to talking through procedures, I employ 3D imaging. It allows me to communicate with my patients in a highly visual way. They can actually see their body and we can discuss the changes they want by making them together on screen. They are able to see the result they want before we even start surgery. This gets us on the same page. At the end of the day, 3D imaging is simply a very powerful tool for communication.
  • Be persistent: I had to work extremely hard to find success in my career. It took years of giving it my all until I was able to establish myself, and I credit that to my persistence. If you never give up, you never lose because whether or not you achieve your goal you know you put in your ultimate effort.
  • Enjoy the process: Humans are conditioned to focus on external goals. We think, “when I accomplish X (this could be getting a house, a car, an award) then I will feel Y.” I wish someone told me earlier that first you have to be; only after you can have and do. Three years ago I had an epiphany. I had accomplished more than I ever thought possible but I still woke up each morning with the same fears and insecurities. I asked myself, “what now?” I realized that I needed more introspection and became much more spiritual. Having introspection and gratitude for what you have doesn’t take away from setting goals, it just gives you appreciation for the blessings that you already have. If you aren’t a slave to the outcome, you will enjoy the journey significantly more.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I love this question. I would say practicing gratitude and kindness as I find the people who do are the most joyous. As I previously mentioned, the first thing I do each morning is reflect on three things I am grateful for. It typically entails one that is related to my job; for example, I think about my surgical cases for the day and feel gratitude for the opportunity to change these patients’ lives. The second usually involves nature, something as simple as the air I breathe or being able to enjoy the sunrise. Finally, I reflect on something personal about my loved ones, such as my mother’s voice, my father’s hugs or my brother’s support.

It’s so easy for us to take our blessings and turn them into a stress. You can complain about anything such as a waiter taking too long to take your order or having long hours at work. Alternatively, you could have appreciation of sharing a meal with a friend or working in a career you are passionate about. Having gratitude changes your belief system and shifts your frequency. When you practice gratitude your thoughts change, which leads to your experiences changing. When your experiences change, you live a better life and you have the ability to help others more.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have lunch with the watchmaker and artisan Richard Mille. His watches embody the principles of perfection, attention to detail, quality and service. His philosophy and dedication to his craft inspires how I run my practice. There is meticulous attention to detail in my office space and future surgery center design. In terms of patient care, my team always aims to anticipate the needs and wants patients don’t even know they have. Richard Mille created something that had never been created before using materials that were so untapped that he had to build his own machinery to construct the watches he envisioned. He did all of this while going up against the biggest brands in the industry. He thought to the extreme and pushed himself to present the greatest work he was capable of. The more I learned about him the more I felt, “Hey, this is someone like me.” I will never forget purchasing my first Richard Mille watch on my birthday. I had read and studied about his craftsmanship for three years prior in order to learn every detail I could. Everytime I look at the watch I appreciate his dedication to his craft and it continues to inspire me.

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