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Dr. Smita R. Ramanadham: “Never accept no as an answer”

Never accept no as an answer. While I may have known this in some capacity, I would say I never fully understood this until recently. Every step of the way, there are a million “no’s.” I’ve learned that “no” really means find another way or fight harder. Never let anyone deter you from your goals […]

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Never accept no as an answer. While I may have known this in some capacity, I would say I never fully understood this until recently. Every step of the way, there are a million “no’s.” I’ve learned that “no” really means find another way or fight harder. Never let anyone deter you from your goals and dreams. I was told I shouldn’t open my own business; I couldn’t have a family or a personal life if I did, it would be too much work for me, I could go on and on. Again, here I am! If you dream it, you can go get it!


As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Smita R. Ramanadham.

Dr. Smita R. Ramanadham is a double board-certified plastic surgeon offering exceptional aesthetic care to her patients throughout the New Jersey, New York City, and Tri-state areas. As a female plastic surgeon, Dr. Ramanadham works to understand their specific needs and goals before formulating a personalized procedure plan. She understands the delicate mix of beauty, art, and science that is required to refine and rejuvenate the aesthetic appearances of her patients so that they experience optimized results. After a successful academic career in Boston, MA, she is thrilled to be back in her home state of New Jersey to provide transformative results that meet the unique goals of men and women.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’m the daughter of immigrant parents, who are also in healthcare, so I knew at an early age that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine. They worked hard to make a living, establish themselves in this country, and provide for their family. I could see the hard work and sacrifices they made but at the same time had dedicated their lives to taking care of the sick. This made a mark on me early on. As I maneuvered my way through medical school, I was immediately drawn to surgery. I spent most of my childhood in the arts so I was drawn to the fact that I could use my hands to treat diseases and make a visible and immediate change for patients. This drove my decision to initially pursue General Surgery, however, I missed the creativity and artistry that I eventually found in Plastic Surgery. I love the breadth of this field; we truly operate on the entire body. Not only are we true anatomists but artists, as well. The most rewarding, however, is making an impact on our patients’ lives and their confidence. They all come to us with their own unique and personal stories that can range anywhere from dealing and coping with a breast cancer diagnosis or a mom that is finally ready to do something for herself. We are able to restore their confidence and make a true impact on their quality of life.

As I began my first job in Boston, I was hopeful and excited about finally working, the many years of school and training were finally over. Over my few years at that position, I had learned more about myself and grew as a surgeon. My personal and professional goals had changed as a result. I had a vision for my practice and needed autonomy and freedom in order to create this. The only way I felt I could do this was to start this journey of owning my own business and practice.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

COVID-19. The one word that explains it all. I had left my previous job at the end of 2018 in Boston to begin this journey of starting my own business. What I hadn’t realized is the amount of time and delays that would follow that would push an April 2019 opening to a November 2019 opening. We pushed our ribbon cutting with the Mayor and Grand Opening to January 2020 to avoid the holiday craziness and 6 weeks later we were shut down by the state as stay-at -home and quarantine orders went into place. It was not the first year or first months of my practice that I had imagined for so many years prior to that. The most important thing for me at the time was to ensure that my employees knew that their jobs were secure and that we, as a business, stayed relevant and visible. We spent that time optimizing our policies, protocols, and overall patient experience when we returned. We also spent a lot of time on social media educating our followers on COVID-19 and ways that we can continue to take care of ourselves in those crazy times.

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’m not sure if it was necessarily a mistake or naivety but, in hindsight, comical nonetheless. I’m a surgeon, I like order, I always have a plan and a plan for my plan. Everything is executed based on this. When starting a new business, nobody cares about your plans other than yourself. Whether it’s construction, the website, or hiring staff. There are delays, there are bumps in the road, there are complete detours and U-turns but at the end of day I’ve learned that you have to roll with the punches. You have to be flexible, patient, and understand that to really create your brand and your business, you can’t take shortcuts and need to trust that at the end, you will have exactly what you dreamed and envisioned with a team that supports you and shares in your goals.

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?

I would say I had a team of people that supported me and built me up along the way. I couldn’t just point to one person. They each played a role in some capacity. Whether it was to motivate me and allow me to see my full potential, lend a shoulder to cry on, or share stories of their own success (and mistakes), right down to helping with logistical issues of owning a business. What I will say is that there was definitely one moment when it clicked for me that I should do this and leave the comfort of an academic, salaried surgical practice to try to make it on my own. Plastic Surgery is a male-dominated field. Most of my mentors and closest friends and colleagues are men so it was difficult for me to envision my life as a female surgeon who was also my own boss. I was at the Women Plastic Surgeons meeting and during lunch sat down with a few of the other female plastic surgeons whom, at the time, I didn’t know all too well. We were making the usual small talk and I brought up that I was not completely satisfied at my current job. I explained to them my experience and what I needed to be professionally content. In a matter of minutes, they each opened up about their own stories. They, too, had decided to open their own businesses and were successful, and more important, happy. The light bulb went off. My decision was made. I was going to open my own business.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

This is so important and I truly believe in order to do my job well and take care of my patients the same way I’d want my family to be taken care of, is to take care of myself first. Physician burnout is a real problem in medicine. Our attrition rates and, devastatingly, suicide rates are at an all-time high. Personally, I believe that this is due to our lack of self-care. I truly believe a majority of this stems from our training. We are trained to always be okay and to always say yes. Saying that we are not okay is a sign of weakness. Saying we need help or need to take a bathroom break is also a sign of weakness. The patient is always first and we are always second. What we don’t realize is that by neglecting our physical and mental health, we are providing a disservice to our patients. For me personally, I always try to take out some time in the day for myself. Whether it’s an early morning workout where I can sweat away my stress or a run where I can have my thoughts to myself to sort through, I’ve found this to be the most helpful. On days that I have big meetings or a long complex surgery, I spend the days leading up to it reading and reviewing the information. The morning of, I always wake up hours earlier than I have to and drink a cup of coffee while I review any last-minute steps or details. The quiet of the morning before the rest of the world wakes up is when I can clear my thoughts and prep the best.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Diversity is extremely important. Inclusion, I would argue is even more important. For a business to be successful it needs to be relatable to the public, and the public is diverse. There needs to be a mutual trust and belief in the mission of the organization. The only way to do this is to embrace what we all bring to the table from our own personal backgrounds, race, gender, or ethnicity. We need to learn from and highlight these differences as the backbone of the company. As a minority female business owner, who also happens to be a surgeon in a male-dominated field, I cannot express how important and influential it was for me to see someone who had a similar story to mine, successfully accomplish what I was hoping to also accomplish. It is well-studied in medical research that minorities and women largely choose their specialties based on their mentors, specifically, mentors that are the same gender and ethnicity. Historically, the number of women and minorities in academic surgical positions are extremely low, these are the surgeons that work regularly with medical students. At the end of the day, this is a huge disservice to our field. By not being visible and involved, we are losing an overwhelming number of extremely smart and intelligent students that might have otherwise chosen surgery as their field. This is applicable to any profession.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

The first step is to acknowledge and accept that there is a problem. Whether it is explicit or implicit bias, it exists, it is real, and we have to understand it. The next step is to really educate the team. We need to self-reflect and understand that unless we make a conscious effort to face these challenges head-on, we cannot expect to truly make advances and changes for the positive. I believe formal training and education is key in this. I think we need to take this further and really honor people’s differences. We all bring something to the table which is unique and adds a different perspective. Brands and companies blossom when you have the views of different people. Not only do you attract patients or clients of various backgrounds but employees and other team members as well.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

When I was younger, I always thought a good CEO did a really good job at the administrative and logistical aspects of running a business. In reality, I think a true leader and successful executive needs to do much more. He or she is the backbone of the company and needs to reflect the mission of the company. They need to be empathetic and be a person of integrity. In order to lead, they need to earn the respect of others. Again, respect needs to be earned. It doesn’t come because of your title, your degree, or your paycheck. It comes from treating every single person in that company as if the business would fall apart without them. It comes from respecting them equally, if not more, than the respect you wish to have. It comes from supporting each employee under you so that they achieve their maximum potential.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myths in my opinion are that the boss is “scary,” isn’t approachable, or only cares about the bottom line. For me, the biggest goal I have as a business owner is to provide the best service and take care of my patients in the best way I know how and the only way to do that is to cultivate a supportive, engaging, work environment for my team. I want them to feel supported by me and by each other, I want them to feel that they have a stake in the business and their thoughts and opinions matter. Communication is integral to this, approachability is vital, and the sense that we are all working together for a bigger cause than just the bottom line is the only way to be successful.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think we have several things that we face that are unique challenges. The largest of this being the glass ceiling effect and, conversely, the sticky floor. I would even argue that the sticky floor is far worse of a problem. I was fortunate in my upbringing that I was challenged and pushed by my parents to always aim higher. When you reach your goal, create a new goal. Never become complacent. Never settle for easy. This idea of a sticky floor wasn’t in my vocabulary but, unfortunately, is experienced by so many women. The knowledge of implicit biases, of gender pay gaps, of the barrier women and minorities face to excel in their careers prevent so many people from even taking the first step. Worse yet, they aren’t given the opportunity to take the first step. In my eyes, that is heart-breaking and a disservice to every profession. Women are powerful and fierce and this needs to be cultivated and embraced.

The other challenge, that I personally struggle with, is what we do to ourselves as women. I think there is so much truth to the idea of the imposter syndrome. We self-doubt, we double and triple-check our facts and our accomplishments before we feel secure and confident enough to speak up or apply for a job or promotion. We don’t negotiate for ourselves the way we deserve. I once heard a colleague say, if you advocate for yourself the way you would for your friends, daughter, or mentees, and did what you tell them to do, but for you, then this hurdle we place on ourselves might be a just a little bit better. I tend to agree with this. We are great advocating for others but fall short when it comes to ourselves.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I went through 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 8 years of residency believing that the only thing I had to worry about and think about is being the best surgeon and doctor I can be and providing the best care for my patients. Afterall, that is all we learned and were trained on during medical school and residency. What I wasn’t prepared for is, at the end of the day, medicine is still a business. Now we have to learn how to deal with insurance companies, how to document our patient notes in a way that we will get paid for our work, we need to learn how to maneuver the intricacies of HR and customer service. There is this whole other side of medicine that we learn for the first time and we aren’t quite prepared for this, despite all of the years it took to get us here.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Understanding of the broader picture and goals. To be good at this, one cannot truly do it just for personal promotion or selfishness. You need to have the drive and desire to truly build something. This comes with the ups, but all of the downs. I think someone that excels must truly feel comfortable being uncomfortable. Every day, every second, can be a challenge. It can break you if you let it. It takes a unique individual to use this as motivation and drive to push harder and further. More importantly, you have to do this, while showing empathy and providing support to your team. Without being a team player, there isn’t a team really, and without a team, there isn’t a company or business. If you don’t have any of these qualities, then I’d say it is unlikely to be successful.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I would tell them to trust themselves. They already have all the qualities and accolades they need, if not more. They need to believe in themselves and trust that they are valuable and have something to teach. They need to stand their ground and have confidence in their goals. They need to lead by example and lead with grace and dignity. Most importantly, they need to reach a hand back to those that follow them and teach a whole new generation of women to be leaders, as well. The only way for us to make a difference is to cultivate and support one another. People may not like you but always handle yourself in a way that continues to demand support and respect.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The most obvious is my care for my patients. I strive to ensure they have a good understanding of their procedure, that they are educated on it and feel empowered to make the right decision for themselves. My goal is to always treat them the way I would expect my family to be treated. It’s beyond fulfilling to watch some of my patients during their journey. They come in lacking confidence which is evident merely by their tone in their voice or their posture. Afterwards, it’s striking how much more outgoing they are, they smile more, they literally stand taller. It’s beautiful to see.

What I take the most pride in is teaching and supporting young plastic surgeons and students grow and be the best they can be. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mentors helping me and paving the way for me. I think it’s my responsibility to do this for others. I want young women to know that someone out there looks like they do and shares their story and their differences. The only way for my field to grow and recruit all of this young talent is for us to mentor them, encourage them, and support them.

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

Sometimes the most push back you get is from the least expected person. I recall many instances throughout my career when people told me it would be difficult to be a woman in a male-dominated field. They would treat me differently and I wouldn’t get the same opportunities as my male colleagues. I found this to be the furthest from the truth. I always felt supported by my male colleagues and I never felt that I was at a disadvantage. What I did find, is that most of the conflict I received were from other women. I was pretty shocked by this.

It’s okay to change paths. We start our career with a very defined path to take. There are certain criteria and steps that must be completed to move to the next step and eventually to your first job as an attending surgeon. What I didn’t realize is how much I would change AFTER I began my first job. I had never thought in a million years that I would be where I am today, a business owner. In fact, I actively did not want this. Here I am though. It’s funny how life takes you on a different (and better) path than you could imagine for yourself.

Never accept no as an answer. While I may have known this in some capacity, I would say I never fully understood this until recently. Every step of the way, there are a million “no’s.” I’ve learned that “no” really means find another way or fight harder. Never let anyone deter you from your goals and dreams. I was told I shouldn’t open my own business; I couldn’t have a family or a personal life if I did, it would be too much work for me, I could go on and on. Again, here I am! If you dream it, you can go get it!

Roll with the punches. I actually was told, if I’m being honest, that things will not go exactly how I plan them to. Of course, I thought it would be different for me. I wouldn’t have delays, I would stick to my timeline, I would open my business when I had planned to. I was wrong. I’ve learned that I need to step back and not sweat the small stuff. Stick with the goal but be flexible on the path.

You can be paralyzed by analysis. By nature of my profession, I over-analyze. I look at every decision and every outcome from every angle. Before I make decisions, I have to understand everything I can about it. When I first started on this journey, I was paralyzed. It would take me days to feel comfortable making a decision. I would research, learn, and talk to as many people as I could. I have learned that I will not always know all of the answers all of the time. I will have to accept learning as I go. I will also have to learn that the decision I made was the best I could with the information I had, but I can always make changes. Change does not mean failure.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would argue that the most important thing we can do for women is to teach young girls to speak up and know it is okay to be wrong. I feel like I have been surrounded by people who just talk to talk, whether right or wrong. I personally always make sure I am right before I say anything. I “practice” it in my head before I speak up. It’s so important to show girls that wrong is okay. We need to give them the tools they need to debate, to argue, to stand their ground, and to think critically. We need to learn that even if we are wrong, it is often better to speak up than to sit quiet. That being wrong is okay. That most often, we learn the most when we are wrong. This is to be embraced. We do not need to be perfect little delicate women, we can have our feelings hurt, we can lose, but we should always use this to drive us to be better.

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

“I didn’t come this far, to only come this far.” Since I was in high school, my goal and all of my efforts were to become a doctor. I didn’t know what type of doctor at the time but eventually that goal was to become a plastic surgeon. I had spent every day doing what was needed, to the best of my ability, to be the best plastic surgeon I could be. Once I officially became a board-certified plastic surgeon, I met my goal. I was done, or so I thought. I wasn’t content to just have a comfortable, “easy” career where the day to day was routine. I needed a challenge. I needed new goals. At first this took the form of personal goals to run a marathon, then multiple marathons, then the world majors which I’m now 2 away from finishing and earning an Abbotts 6-star medal. Professionally, this took the form of owning my own business. I was not satisfied just showing up to work, day in and day out without building something that was my own. I wanted autonomy and I want to fulfill my vision of what my brand would look like. Now, I’m doing that. Not sure what is next just yet, but it’ll be good!

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with 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.

To be completely honest, I would want to sit down to lunch with my father. As cliche as that sounds, he came to this country alone. He rented a room from an elderly couple in Newark, NJ in the 1970’s, found a job, studied for his pharmacy licenses and did this alone in a foreign country in a language that was not his native. He then went on to own several pharmacies and medical offices with my mother, to then open his own generic pharmaceutical company. I didn’t appreciate any of this growing up. When he passed away, I was in residency. I still didn’t appreciate how invaluable his experiences would be. I often joke that if he were alive, I would have a turn-key office ready for me the day I decided I was leaving Boston. I see now how difficult this all is, how much work it is, and conversely how rewarding it is. I would love to just sit and talk to him about how he did it all and what motivated him. I was just too young and unfocused to have these talks with him when he was with us.

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