Plastic Surgeon Dr. Rady Rahban on the Most Important Part of Giving Back: "Volunteer Work Unites Humanity"

Jager Weatherby on 13 Nov 2014 at 5:00pm

Dr. Rady Rahban in Haiti
Dr. Rady Rahban in Haiti, 2013

As a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Dr. Rady Rahban is certainly no stranger to the wealthy and famous. However, for the California-born doctor, being a part of this industry isn’t just about redoing the noses of Hollywood’s well-known faces. The role comes with a sense of responsibility to give back to those in need, like children abroad born with facial deformities who lack access to standard medical care.

Since 2007, Dr. Rahban has juggled his private practice with yearly medical trips to help those less fortunate. Fluent in Spanish, he travels to Latin America with organizations such as Operation Smile and Mending Kids, performing much-needed surgeries on cleft lips and palates.

RealSelf caught up with Dr. Rahban to learn more about his philanthropic efforts, as well as well hear his thoughts on what we take for granted each day in America.

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RealSelf: What inspired you to start going on these medical trips?
Dr. Rahban: The reality is that it was twofold, partially selfish and partially selfless. The selfless reason is that you acquired all of these talents during your training, and you can’t do everything you learned while working in a private practice. You have this skillset you’re not using, so you want to go out and do good with it. The selfish reason is that you need to get a break from the day-to-day of aesthetics. You can quickly you get tainted and pigeonholed in this world. While I definitely think that aesthetic surgery is powerful and life-changing, there’s something to be said for going outside of the country to places that are remote, where people have access to nothing, and being able to break away and do good work.

Doctors in Paraguay
Dr. Rahban and fellow surgeons in Paraguay, 2012

RealSelf: What would you say is the most important aspect of the work that you do?
Dr. Rahban: The most important aspect is the sheer fact that it’s uniting humanity. The reality is that you’re caring for people who would otherwise never get the care. It’s just that simple. The thing about this particular type of surgery (cleft lip and palate), is that if they don’t get it, their lives aren’t going to just be bad, they’re going to be terrible. A child who doesn’t have his lip fixed is pretty much considered an animal. They’re shamed in society. But by going down there, even if you only have one or two kids, their whole lives will be different.

RealSelf: What’s something that’s surprised you during these medical trips?
Dr. Rahban: The connection between parent and child is always so amazing to me. You have this opportunity where a doctor will perform surgery on a child for free and change their life forever. You’d think that these parents would be like, “Here’s my kid. Take care of them.” But in reality, they’re very reluctant to let go of their children. There’s this fear and they don’t know who you are. It’s always amazing to me the bond between parent and child. It doesn’t matter if you have money, you don’t have money, if you’re in a third world country. It’s incredibly powerful.

RealSelf: Who’s been your most memorable patient from these medical trips?
Dr. Rahban: I think the patient I remember most is a man named Manuel. He’s a 65-year-old who never had the hance to get his lip fixed. It was the only time I ever had a patient with a cleft lip who could look in the mirror after the surgery and give me some kind of emotional feedback. Normally when we do surgeries, we do them on infants or small children. The parent is obviously elated and can see that the future of their child will be better, but the child doesn’t necessarily understand. When you operate on an adult and can see their reaction afterwards, it’s pretty amazing.

Dr. Rahban Columbia
Dr. Rahban in Columbia, 2011

RealSelf: What’s the message you would give to young doctors about making time for this kind of work?
Dr. Rahban: I cannot tell you the number of people that say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re doing this. That’s amazing. I’ve always wanted to go. I’m going to go next year. How do I get involved?” But it’s all just lip service. The bottom line is, going on these medical trips requires the same amount of discipline as it does to keep a good diet, as it does to do all the things in life that are difficult but good for you. If you wait for the right time to leave your practice, it’s never going to happen. As you get older, your practice gets busier. As you get busier, the cost to leave for 10 days is greater. You have to forcibly carve out the time and make yourself go.

RealSelf: What do you think we take for granted in America that you wish others could see through your eyes?
Dr. Rahban: I think people complain about the healthcare system here, but we still have the most incredible healthcare system in the world. The thing that’s probably the most amazing to me is how much waste we have. Everything is disposable. Everything is open and thrown away. You go to these countries and they have nothing. There’s been a mission where we ran out of sterile gloves — you know, the basic elements. Like everything else in the world, it’s a point of perspective. You don’t know any different until it’s not there. When you go to these countries, you realize how much you can do with how little. Then you come back and realize how little we do with so much.

RealSelf: Where do you see the biggest need and how can average people make a big impact?
Dr. Rahban: There’s a need in every category. There’s a need for awareness, so people need to start talking about global healthcare deficiency. There’s a need for funding, so people need to raise money. There’s a need for volunteers, so people need to get up and go. From conception to reality, there’s a need. The average person can contribute in any way they feel is their strong suit. Obviously, the easiest way to get involved is by raising money, and it’s good. But writing a check is never as rewarding as doing something yourself. If you can somehow end up feeding a child, or taking a kid from the ICU to the operating room, or translating for someone, you’ll do the good deed plus you’ll get a ton back in return. Those are the things that instill a desire to do more.

Dr. Rady Rahban
About Dr. Rady Rahban

Dr. Rahban is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, CA. After graduating with a degree in biochemistry from UCLA, Dr. Rahban went on to attend medical school at UC San Diego and complete his training in plastic and reconstructive surgery at USC. His work has been praised on Best Of LA and in Newsweek, and he’s also been featured on the Style Network and TLC.