This summer, Jackson resident Erin Smith will move to Los Angeles, not to try to make it on the big screen, but to train under world-renowned plastic surgeons as a part of her fellowship.
She will be trained by Dr. Paul Nassif, who stars on the television show “Botched” and Dr. Babak Azizzadeh.
Smith earned bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and psychology at Ole Miss in 2007. She then went to Tulane, where she earned her master’s degree in neuroscience in 2009.
Her ultimate goal was to attend medical school and work as a neurosurgeon.
However, during her years of medical school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), she discovered her love for facial reconstruction and decided to go the ear, nose and throat (ENT) route to pursue a career in that field.
She is currently in the otolaryngology residency program at UMMC, which she will complete in June.
“Initially, I went to medical school thinking I was going to be a neurosurgeon and I love that aspect of medicine,” she said. “But once I got into anatomy and studying the cranial nerves and how they function and how they allow you to speak and to hear. It’s a part of the nervous system, but outside of the brain, and I realized that was much more interesting to me to be able to operate on the face and neck.”
A professor that she had at UMMC who was an ENT-trained surgeon gave a presentation that made Smith realize she wanted to pursue that aspect of medicine.
“She gave a presentation on this patient who had this terrible cancer on his jaw and his face that was literally rotting through his face,” Smith said. “She showed us that she could literally take a bone from the leg and completely reconstruct his face. I just thought that was so interesting. I didn’t realize the scope of practice in ENT and all that was involved in it.”
Smith interviewed with residency programs all over the country, but ultimately decided to stay at UMMC.
“It’s been a great place for me to really foster my training and also be able to have kids as well,” Smith said. “It was a comforting decision when we decided to stay here, because we knew that ultimately I would be doing a fellowship and we could have the adventure when I do the fellowship.”
Pursuing a career in the medical field is something Smith has always wanted to do. Her mother is a nurse practitioner and mentor to Smith.
“She has been such a mentor to me,” Smith said. “She is an amazing woman all around and has always worked hard. She is the one who exposed me to the medical field.”
Reconstruction is where Smith’s passion lies.
“I never thought that I would be getting into the cosmetic part until I realized how you can really restore someone’s appearance and help them feel better about themselves,” Smith said. “The part I’m most passionate about is the reconstructive side.”
For her fellowship, Smith said she interviewed “far and wide” again to expose herself to practices all over the country.
She really looked for a place where she could develop a hybrid practice, meaning she could gain experience in both reconstruction and cosmetic procedures.
She got an interview in Los Angeles with Dr. Paul Nassif and Dr. Babak Azizzadeh.
“I couldn’t pass up an interview with them,” Smith said. “I went just wanting to see what it was all about. I was just blown away at the training I would get.”
Smith said she had never watched the show “Botched” until the night before her interview.
“Nassif will help people who have had botched jobs to dog bite trauma,” Smith said. “He does a lot of reconstruction, but also does cosmetic procedures. His specialty is rhinoplasty, or nose jobs.”
“It’s hard to get a lot of exposure to that in residency because it’s such a one-man job, and especially if it’s a cosmetic procedure, people do not necessarily want their nose job done by someone in training,” Smith added. “Getting to work under him, since he’s so good at that, it is really neat.”
Then she met with Dr. Azizzadeh whose practice is very different. He specializes in facial nerve reanimation.
“So, he helps people who have facial paralysis, whether it’s from having a brain tumor or whether they were born with it or have Bell’s Palsy,” Smith said. “He specializes in restoring facial symmetry and nerve reanimation. So, that’s everything from taking muscle from the thigh and connecting it to that muscle that’s paralyzed and then using the facial nerve from the other side to reanimate that muscle.”
“It’s really long, cool, complex surgeries,” she added. “So, both of them had the hybrid practice I was looking for.”
Smith will also work with Guy Massry, an oculoplastic surgeon, and Rebecca Fitzgerald, a cosmetic dermatologist.
When she left her interview, she knew that she wanted to work with them.
“It’s such a comprehensive program,” Smith said. “I thought being able to work under all those people who have such great experience would give me the skills I need to do whatever I wanted to do in the future.”
She will spend six months each with Nassif and Azizzadeh, rotating every other month. She will get time with Massry and Fitzgerald in between.
“It will be a very busy fellowship,” Smith said.
She, her husband and their three small children will move to Los Angeles for the year during her fellowship.
Her goal is to ultimately move back to Mississippi to practice.
“There is a need here for the skillset that I’m going to get,” she said.
Smith is a Meridian native, but she moved to the coast during her high school years. Her husband, Lee, is from Natchez. Together they have three children: Amelia, 5; Stella, 3; and Charlotte, 1.
Amelia and Stella are students at St. Richard’s.