Allison t. Pontius, md, and Alain Polynice, MD, marry their facial and body plastic surgery talents
Oil and water. Cats and dogs. General aesthetic plastic surgeons and facial aesthetic plastic surgeons. None of these pairings are known to coexist particularly well.
Except, perhaps, the physicians at Plastic Surgery Associates of New York on Manhattan’s fashionable Upper East Side. There, one finds a perfect match between facial plastic surgeon Allison T. Pontius, MD, and practice partner Alain Polynice, MD, a classically trained aesthetic plastic surgeon who specializes in body work.
“You don’t often find plastic surgeons from our respective subspecialties getting along as well as we do,” says Pontius, a board-certified otolaryngologist. “For a lot of facial plastic surgeons and general plastic surgeons, there are substantial turf issues at stake.”
Pontius and Polynice (who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and maintains memberships in the New York Regional Society of Plastic Surgery, the American Society of Plastic Surgery, and the American Burn Association) have resolved their turf issues simply by marrying their talents.
“The way I see it, if you have practitioners from these two areas of subspecialization, and both are well trained, there is no reason they should be antagonists,” Polynice says. “There is instead every reason they should work in tandem, combine forces, and so be able to provide the best possible care and results.”
Pontius concurs. “As an ear-nose-and-throat [ENT] specialist, my training for 6 years was the face. Nasal anatomy. Sinus surgery. Rhinoplasty. Facial trauma. These are all part and parcel to what an ENT deals with. Accordingly, those in my field bring to the table a different realm of knowledge about facial anatomy.
“However, there is no question but that the future direction of things is moving our respective academies closer together. I think surgeons in the two subspecialties are realizing that neither is the enemy of the other.”
A Marriage That Works
At least for Polynice and Pontius, this marriage of face and body specialists works because Polynice and Pontius are married to each other—literally—and have been since 2003.
“The best thing about being husband and wife and practicing together is that we always have someone to bounce ideas off or to get help from in the operating room,” Pontius says. “My husband and I get along well, and patients pick up on this, which helps them feel comfortable with us. They know intuitively we are going to work together to solve their concerns.”
The partners complement each other’s personal qualities as well as their clinical skills: Whereas he is the more artistically minded, she is better equipped for organization. “Dr Polynice is the spontaneous one. For me, I like there to be a plan of action before I do anything,” Pontius shares.
They each operate 3 days per week, working side-by-side on one of those days. “The vast majority of our surgeries are performed on-site,” Polynice says, indicating that his plush, 2,000-square-foot office features two state-of-the-art operating rooms and a recovery area. “However, if the surgery involves procedures that call for an overnight recovery, then it’s performed in the hospital—usually at St Vincent’s Hospital, which is nearby.”
It is noteworthy that the physicians have elected to situate their practice amid some of the world’s biggest names in aesthetic plastic surgery. “This neighborhood is seen as the place to go for plastic surgery, because it’s where all the best doctors are,” Pontius says.
“Yes, it was a major financial investment for us to set up shop here, and we are taking a huge risk,” she continues. “But we feel it’s entirely worth it. We felt the timing was ideal for bringing new faces like ours into the area. And we’ve found that, even in New York, people are looking for new talent.”
Discovery of Plastic Surgery Associates of New York by those new-talent-seeking patients most often occurs as a result of word-of-mouth promotion spread by satisfied patients and augmented through favorable mentions by important and influential media voices.
“We’ve spoken with a public-relations [PR] agency to help us increase our exposure,” Pontius says. “PR professionals have the ability to get your name out. They can get news about you placed in the magazines most responsible for shaping perceptions of what’s hot and what’s not. PR is a lot more effective than paid advertising—at least it is for us in this particular market.”
Plastic Surgery Associates of New York attracts mainly women, perhaps more than it might if the physician team were composed solely of men. “It’s a definite plus in the eyes of women patients that I’m a woman,” Pontius says. “There are surprisingly few practices in this neighborhood where the plastic surgeon is a woman.”
A Holistic Approach
Even so, a key selling point for the practice is its use of holistic treatments. “We believe in offering not only the surgical procedure but also a wide variety of adjunctive services that address the total person so that our patients can look and feel as best as possible,” she says. “A lot of patients fall into the trap of not seeing the big picture. They might come in for, say, a facelift but don’t realize the harm they do to themselves when they sunbathe and bake their skin, or smoke cigarettes. or have a poor diet. We try to help patients deal with these wrong lifestyle choices in order to achieve the best possible results from what we offer.”
Working with patients preoperatively in this manner does not—as might be imagined—raise expectations beyond reason. Instead, its primary effect is to convey the notion that the physicians deeply care about them as human beings. “Patients usually appreciate that I’m concerned about the harm they’re doing to themselves by smoking or eating poorly, and they appreciate that I’m interested in their entire well-being,” Pontius says.
In some instances, patients are referred outside the practice to other types of physicians for physical examinations, blood work, and cardiac testing to ensure safety and to help determine the most appropriate surgical plan or alternative interventions. Many of these patients are also seen by providers of acupuncture and other alternative medicine, sciences that Pontius and Polynice support as elements of their own practice’s holistic approach.
Part and parcel of this approach is the use of supremely high-quality skin care products. Those available at Plastic Surgery Associates of New York are custom formulated using a process that Pontius oversees. “Skin care has always been a passion of mine,” she says. “There are a lot of good skin care products out there, but what makes ours better are, first, the fact that they are medical-grade products and, second, the fact that they employ only those ingredients scientifically proven effective.
“We start with ingredients such as retinoids, antioxidants, and glycolic acid. Then, we combine them with the latest technology—peptides, green tea, and neurotransmitter inhibitors, for instance. Patients who use them notice improvement after about 2 weeks.”
Currently, the skin care line is sold only in-office, but the couple is sizing up the possibility of someday developing nonmedical formulations that could be distributed through high-end department stores and other exclusive outlets.
All About Breasts
Many of the clinical philosophies embraced by Plastic Surgery Associates of New York are on display in a recent book Polynice cowrote, titled Your Complete Guide to Breast Reduction and Breast Lifts. Released in May, the 110-page paperback, published by Addicus Books, is a consumer reference written in lay language that details everything a woman might conceivably need to know about how a naturally massive bosom can be attractively downsized and reshaped.
“Although our culture admires females with large breasts, some women whose breasts are large without benefit of enhancement procedures sometimes are very embarrassed by them,” Polynice says. “But the leading reason they seek breast reduction is not because of embarrassment but because they want relief from physical suffering—they want to put an end to the back and neck pain they experience and the problems associated with poor posture resulting from all that weight they’re carrying on their chests.
“This is a condition that affects quite a few women. Last year, more than 114,000 women had breast-reduction surgery—a 35% increase since 2000, according to the most recent statistics released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.”
Your Complete Guide to Breast Reduction and Breast Lifts covers such topics as choosing a plastic surgeon, preparing for surgery, undergoing surgery, pain management, and follow-up care. Contained in its pages are dozens of before-and-after photos of women who have undergone breast reductions and breast lifts.
Polynice authored the book with Aloysius Smith, MD, a partner in Plastic Surgery Associates of New York. (Smith splits his time between his well-established practice in Westchester County and the Manhattan office.) Polynice—fellowship-trained in aesthetic plastic surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn—was introduced to Mayo alumnus Smith in 2000 by a mutual friend, the chairman of the plastic surgery department there. The two hit it off, and Smith—who had completed his training 15 years earlier—invited Polynice in early 2001 to join him in his New York City practice.
The Big Apple was a very different place from the locales Polynice remembers from his youth. “I grew up all over the Caribbean. My dad was in the hotel business, and we moved from one resort to another during my childhood,” says Polynice, who is fluent in French and Spanish as a result of his island-hopping upbringing.
At about the time he was 8 years old, Polynice decided to become a plastic surgeon. “I’m sure I didn’t know what that meant then, but I must have been on to something, because that has been my focus since before going to medical school,” he says.
Polynice was an undergraduate student in France. From there, he went to medical school in the Dominican Republic, finishing in 1989, then back to France for a year of general surgery training in Toulouse. He completed his general surgery training at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, NY. This was followed by a burn fellowship at New York Cornell (now New York Presbyterian) Hospital.
In 1998, Polynice began his Mayo Clinic plastic surgery fellowship, a 2-year experience that subsequently led into a traveling fellowship that took him to Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy, France, England, and South America.
It was at the Mayo Clinic that Polynice met Pontius. He caught sight of her on Pontius’s first day of surgical internship and was immediately struck by Cupid’s scalpel—er, arrow. “I knew right away that she was the one for me,” he says.
Pontius concurs. “ It was pretty much a case of love at first sight,” she tells. “Dr Polynice was my senior resident—the first stitch I ever placed, he was the one who taught me how to do it. We worked really well together, and we knew we had something special. That’s why we decided to go into practice together.”
Pontius arrived at the Mayo Clinic by way of the University of California, Santa Barbara, not far from where she was born and raised. Interestingly, a career in medicine is not what she intended for herself. “I was going to become an environmental-protection attorney. I wanted to save the planet,” she says.
After receiving her diploma with highest honors in environmental studies in 1993, Pontius began to realize that she might be more effective at helping improve the world’s ecology by narrowing her focus from the global to the personal. It was at that point she decided to go into medicine.
“I came to the conclusion that if people felt better about themselves, they would treat each other better; and if they treated each other better, they would also be more inclined to treat the environment better,” Pontius says, confessing that she was influenced in her choice by her father, a respected Southern California physician.
Pontius then enrolled at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, completing that program in 1999 (she was in the top quarter of her class). Her general surgery internship at the Mayo Clinic started that same year. In 2000, she advanced to otolaryngology residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and finished that portion of her training in 2004. With that behind her, Pontius next undertook a yearlong facial plastic surgery fellowship with Edwin Williams III, MD, at the New England Laser and Cosmetic Surgery Center in Latham, NY.
Now in practice with her husband, the ideas about environmentalism that preceded her shift into medicine remain intact. “I suppose in some sense I’m still saving the planet. But instead of doing it one piece of litigation at a time, I’m doing it one face at a time,” she quips.
Incorporated within Plastic Surgery Associates of New York is a hair-restoration clinic that Pontius runs, and plans call for adding a wellness center. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of interesting cases coming through the doors. Of those, the ones Polynice and Pontius enjoy most involve a total transformation of face and body. These tend to be their most complex cases, and they afford the couple the opportunity to demonstrate why it is possible—desirable, even—for facial plastic surgeons and general plastic surgeons to work as a team.
“We each bring to the table a set of special skills and insights that complement those the other one possesses,” Polynice says. “Independently, we’re each very good plastic surgeons. Together, we’re an unbeatable combination.”
Rich Smith is a contributing writer for Plastic Surgery Products.