You could say dermatologist Heidi A. Waldorf,MD, has always been in the thick of things. She started practicing cosmetic dermatology when the field was starting its rapid evolution from having only a few treatments, like collagen fillers, peels and the first target-specific lasers, to encompassing a spectrum of facial rejuvenation options, from neurotoxin and dermal fillers to energy-based devices. With each advance, Dr.Waldorf has been at the frontlines developing treatment protocols and educating her peers.
Dr. Waldorf says her career niche wasn’t a plan but an evolution. She studied economics and public policy at Harvard College, did lab research on cutaneous oncology at University of Pennsylvania Medical School, then got the ‘derm surgery bug’ from her mentors at the Harvard Combined Dermatology Residency Program during her residency at Harvard Medical School, which led to a competitive Mohs, laser and dermatologic surgery fellowship in New York.
Finishing training, she wanted to be able to combine academic and private practice. So in 1995, in addition to bringing Mohs and lasers to her father’s general dermatology practice in Nanuet, N.Y., she joined the Mount Sinai Hospital, Department of Dermatology as director of Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology (N.Y.), as the department’s first part-time member of the faculty practice.
“I got to do studies on prototype lasers, so I wasn’t scared of subsequent generations of energy-based devices. Doing Mohs surgery gave me comfort with anatomy. I lucked out to be in the right places when Botox arrived. I did my first Botox clinics with Mitchel Brin and worked on Allergan’s launch in the U.S. and abroad,” she said.
Dr. Waldorf was part of a select group of core cosmetic physicians invited to annual national meetings led by injection innovators like Jean Carruthers, MD, Alastair Carruthers, MD, and Arnold Klein, MD. That prepared her to ‘hit the ground running’ when the approval of Restylane (Galderma) launched the age of hyaluronic acid fillers.
It Hasn’t Always Gone According to Plan
Dr. Waldorf enjoyed her hectic schedule seeing patients at two offices, teaching residents and fellows, and lecturing. But in 2007, everything changed when her mother was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, mesothelioma, and she took charge of her care.
“My time became more precious. At the office, being pulled between aesthetic and medical patients felt rushed. Something had to give. What I truly loved – clinically and intellectually – was aesthetics. So, I dropped Mohs surgery and medical dermatology,” she said.
Things got more complicated six months later, when Dr. Waldorf was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went into what she calls “military mode,” to get through her chemo, her mom’s treatment and seeing patients.
“I feel lucky that my mom got to see me finish my treatment,” she said. But, sadly, right after, in January 2009, Dr. Waldorf canceled all patients to oversee hospice until her mother’s passing.
Dr. Waldorf got back into her routine, but felt the absence of her mother who had been her best friend, advisor and supporter. The suggestion from a dear friend to visit Paris, as Dr. Waldorf had often done with her mother, on her and her mom’s joint birthday weekend in 2010, provided more than just emotional support. Dr. Waldorf noticed the International Master Course on Aging Skin (IMCAS) Paris was scheduled for that same weekend and decided to attend.
“A lot of people at IMCAS hadn’t seen me in almost two years. That meeting led to invitations to speak there and the Anti-Aging Medicine World Congress (AMWC) and reconnected me with industry. That was very powerful for me. I went to Paris because I missed my mom and that trip got me back into what I loved to do,” Dr.Waldorf shared.
Dr. Waldorf continues to lecture at major professional meetings around the globe. She particularly enjoys the international multidisciplinary aesthetic conferences, where she can compare experiences with fellow experts who may have different approaches based on their specialty or country.
Dr. Waldorf also gets inspiration from being involved in international advisory boards and consensus groups.
Working with groups of incredible, brilliant colleagues and friends provides a real sense of satisfaction. We are helping create protocols and elevate standards of care. That helps doctors and patients,” Dr. Waldorf said.
All of it gets Dr. Waldorf’s brain percolating, she said. That carries through to the ideas (#heideas) she shares in her social media posts and as co-chief medical editor of Modern Aesthetics. Topics range from non-invasive rejuvenation and skincare, to recommendations for aesthetic practices and even random things she finds amusing. She also shares photography from her world travels.
“My #heideas came naturally – I’ve always been confident enough to bring up what everyone was thinking but are often afraid to say,” she said.
After her father retired in 2016, Dr. Waldorf decided to leave her university practice and, after an extensive renovation, relaunch her suburban office as Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics. Dr.Waldorf says her goal was to create a “serene haven” for aesthetic patients that maintains the “gravitas” of a physician’s office. The glass entry has her motto: “art + science = natural beauty.”Interestingly, she says she spends 90% of her time doing aesthetic treatments that didn’t exist or were just starting 25 years ago when she went into practice.
I've built a career doing something I love working with my hands, making people feel better about themselves, and thinking about ways to do what I do better. And I really enjoy making aesthetics understandable for people, whether those people are patients, media or colleagues,” she said.‘It is fulfilling physically, emotionally and intellectually and it is always evolving.
”Dr. Waldorf said the friendship and support of dear friends and colleagues around the globe, including her special ‘DermDivas,’ who are top female cosmetic dermatologists, is invaluable in good times and bad.
“It is so important to have a circle of people connected by friendship, respect and trust, with whom you can share questions about patients, business, anything,” she said.“On a wider scale, I try to mentor and still accept mentorship in all directions – junior, senior and direct peer. Those arrows go back and forth.”
In 2021, at 56 years old, Dr. Waldorf plans to make self-care for her body and spirit a priority. She has already restarted regular yoga classes to combat tight muscles and hunched posture from work and, prior to the pandemic, was putting more time aside for pure vacation travel separate from work, something she hopes to restart in the coming months.
“I’ve learned that self-care is time well spent,” she said.“Part of that is understanding that you don’t have to say yes to every project. Running ourselves ragged doesn’t help us or our patients.”