In Profile: Mrs Sabrina Shah-Desai

By Kat Cooke / 16 May 2016

Mrs Sabrina Shah-Desai explains her love of treating the periorbital area and why teaching is a vital part of her career

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others”

“I come from a family of doctors; we have a dentist, ENT surgeon, thoracic surgeon, onco-surgeon and gynaecologist,” explains consultant ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgeon Mrs Sabrina Shah-Desai, “But I am the first to work in cosmetics.”

While Mrs Shah-Desai decided to become a surgeon at an early age, it was an enjoyment of art that led her into aesthetics, “For me, aesthetics is art, science and imagination and I think that captures what I love about practicing it.” But this wasn’t the path her family would have assumed, “My father was a thoracic surgeon and when I began doing oculoplastics, he would say to me, ‘Why don’t you do cataracts?’ But to me, cataract surgery was repetitive and dull – I wanted to do aesthetics.”

Mrs Shah-Desai completed her degree in Ophthalmology in India in 1994 and travelled to England in 1995 to complete her Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS). She trained at many prestigious units and after spending eight years at Moorfields Eye Hospital, she became an NHS consultant in 2010, “Whilst at Moorfields, I trained under Mr Richard Collin, one of the world’s oculoplastic legends. He used to do a lot of toxin injections, which were just getting into the market at the time and I learnt a lot about aesthetics from him.”

"As a Hindu, I’m a great believer in karma, destiny and the cycle of life and I believe this is my way of giving back.”

In 2012, Mrs Shah-Desai set up her London practice, Perfect Eyes Ltd, whilst still working in the NHS. Then in 2015, after spending almost 20 years working for the NHS, she decided it was the right moment to spend more time focusing on what she enjoyed the most, “I worked so hard in the NHS looking after people who had disfiguring functional problems. The only time I looked after patients with aesthetic problems was in my private practice – so something had to give. I did not want to give up on the aesthetic side because I enjoyed it so much.” In her NHS and private career Mrs Shah-Desai has always made time for teaching, something she says is a huge part of her career, “I love training and teaching, it keeps my brain young; enthuses me and I have met some of my best friends through doing so. When you teach somebody you learn yourself, you see conditions in a different way from revisiting form and function. As a Hindu, I’m a great believer in karma, destiny and the cycle of life and I believe this is my way of giving back.”

She continues, “You never stop learning, I learn everyday and I am so grateful that I do. It’s an evolving field and medicine is changing so fast; twenty years ago we were going overseas to learn how to use dermal fillers and up until six years ago we were pretty much just treating localised areas. Then we realised we could use fillers like structural pillars to support the face, and achieve amazing aesthetic results. You can do a lot with fillers that you can’t achieve easily with surgery, in a manner in which the patient benefits with highly aesthetic outcomes achieved with minimal risk and downtime.”

Mrs Shah-Desai enjoys the challenge in working on such a delicate area of the face, “I think the eye area is one of the most demanding surgical areas because it’s a functioning anatomy. If you do a plastic surgical procedure on the arm or abdomen, you can hide it easier if the results are not optimum. But when you do a procedure around the eye, there is nowhere to hide – it is there for the world to see. It is a very high-intensity, unforgiving area, both surgically and non-surgically and that’s what I love about it, the fact that you really have to be at the top of your game.” When asked what her biggest achievement is so far, she replies, “When I worked in the NHS I set up a skin cancer MOHs service which took three years to do, but it helped a large population in Essex, so that was a professional achievement. In terms of my aesthetic career, my big achievement is yet to come – you’ll have to watch this space!”

Do you have an ethos or motto?

Keep it simple, be generous and grow people with you. As a person, I don’t believe in growing alone and trampling on everybody around me; I believe in empowering people, especially women. My philosophy is, ‘for beautiful eyes, look for the good in others’.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t chase success. Do the best you can do and success will follow.

Do you have an industry pet hate?

As a confident female role model I find it disconcerting to come to aesthetic conferences and find that many women (in the industry) have become so dysmorphic about their looks.

What aspects of the industry do you enjoy?

I love how welcoming it is, it is so nice to be a part of this group. I debuted on the aesthetic conference circuit last year and everyone has just opened their arms and embraced me.

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