As a young girl, Valerie Ablaza, M.D., would skim the insects off her family's pool, watch to see if they were alive and monitor their behavior as they dried and flew away. She would go to a local pond, catch tadpoles and watch them grow legs and become frogs. All the while, her sister, a year older, rather fancied ballet. The daughter of a retired Philadelphia heart surgeon Sariel Ablaza and the late Mary Jane Ablaza, a former operating room nurse, Valerie Ablaza seemed destined for a career in healthcare. In high school, she dabbled with the idea of becoming a neonatology intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, but heeded the advice of NICU nurses whom she befriended that being a doctor would be a better road.
Valerie Ablaza, M.D., believes in balance between her professional and personal life. She enjoys several outdoor sporting activities, as well as ballroom dancing.
"When I got into medical school, I realized I liked doing things with my hands. I loved dissecting the cadaver in gross anatomy class and would go to the classroom on off hours to work on it. That is the essence of plastic surgery: Knowing the muscles, the nerves; cutting and sewing," says Dr. Ablaza, who practices in Montclair, N.J.
In a man's world
Only about 10 percent of today's plastic surgeons are women.
"There are not a lot of women specializing in heart surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery and plastic surgery, but the specialties of OB/GYN, pediatrics and dermatology include more women," Dr. Ablaza says.
As 80 percent to 85 percent of most plastic surgeons' practices are made up of female patients, being a female plastic surgeon has its benefits, she says.
"There is the unique insight that only a woman has to things like a woman's sexuality, what it is like to buy clothing or put on makeup. We understand why women start using cover up to hide the shadowing under their eyes or wear turtlenecks to hide their necks," Dr. Ablaza says.
Dr. Ablaza chose, in part, to go into plastic surgery because it is a rare choice for female physicians. She focused her training on breast surgery, believing that a lot of women would rather go to another woman to have breast and other surgeries that require an understanding of what it is like to be a woman.
"I do not want to offend my male colleagues — even my partner is a male — but it is the truth that men who do breast surgery tend to imagine what it is like to look at the breasts, rather than what it is like to have them," Dr. Ablaza says. "When I do breast surgery, I am putting myself in that person's place. That is not something you can teach — that is something that is just female thinking." The same can be said of body contouring and what it feels like for women to wear certain articles of clothing. Women, for example, might have trouble conveying to a male what they have to go through with bras when their breasts are small, or what it's like to wear a bikini or a dress with a plunging neckline, Dr. Ablaza says.
"All those things that women go through — the breast taping, gel inserts and pads, and having to modify dresses. Male doctors see the result. They may not understand what goes into making the decision," Dr. Ablaza says. "Being a woman, I am living it. It is a different perspective that I just think is unique, and it adds insight."
Balance: The theme
Dr. Ablaza believes in balance between her professional and personal life. She likes sports and the outdoors, and was a competitive racquetball player in high school and college. Today she enjoys several sports, including squash, skiing and cycling.
She learned when she started practice about eight years ago that doing a good job treating patients early on in her career — while she did a lot of emergency room and reconstructive work — could mean future referrals.