EIGHT YEARS OF ACTIVE DUTY FUELED THIS ONETIME ARMY M.D.’S PASSION FOR RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
When Adam Hamawy, a reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon and the founder of Princeton Plastic Surgeons, graduated from the Rutgers University medical school in 1996, he had no intention of pursuing plastic surgery as a specialty. After finishing with top honors, he completed a residency in general surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital through the Weill Cornell University Medical School. He completed that residency in 2003, just as the war in Iraq was beginning, and Hamawy decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. It was during eight years of active duty that he would develop to his surprise a passion for the art and science of what’s broadly termed a specialty “involving the restoration, reconstruction, or alteration of the human body.”
“The Army needed surgeons, and I went right into active duty. I was a combat trauma surgeon, and deployed to Iraq in 2005. That’s when I became interested in plastic surgery…not only how to save someone’s life, but also how to make that person look normal again. At the time, there were only 12 plastic surgeons in that entire branch of armed forces.”
The following year, when Hamawy returned from his deployment, the military sponsored him for a fellowship in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, one of the most esteemed such programs in the country. After two years, he was relocated to Washington State and assigned by the military to cover the Northwest region’s (from Montana to Alaska) plastic and reconstructive surgery needs. When his active duty ended, the former Garden State resident decided to return to the East Coast to write the next chapter of his career. After a year with a large medical group on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, Hamawy took a leap of faith and branched out on his own.
In 2013, he opened his practice, Princeton Plastic Surgeons. “Working on Madison Avenue was a great experience, but there was so much going on in that area,” he recalled. “Having grown up in Old Bridge, I really wanted to get back to New Jersey to be closer to family.”
Armed with comprehensive training and extensive experience in both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, Hamawy was well provisioned with the skills needed to run a successful practice. Still, he faced two significant early obstacles. The first was a tough economic climate. At the time, the country was just pulling itself out of a recession, and the M.D. discovered that securing startup funds was not an easy feat. Second, since he had not practiced medicine in New Jersey since 1996, his relative newcomer status put him at a disadvantage. “New York and New Jersey are very competitive in terms of plastic surgeons, so opening a practice was a challenge,” he said. “It was especially hard because of the economics at that time. And since I left New Jersey in 1996, I had no professional connections…did all my training outside of the state. When I came back, I was an unknown.”
To build credibility with fellow medical professionals in the state, Hamawy performed surgeries in a local hospital, and while working alongside the center’s nurses, anesthesiologists, and other staff members, was able to forge important working relationships.
Princeton Plastic Surgeons is now in its fifth year. The practice specializes in both surgical and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures of the face, breast, and body. Because of his passion for doing reconstructions, Hamawy also offers scar revision, fat transfer reconstruction, and other procedures in addition to a variety of hair restoration techniques. His philosophy is to avoid extremes to work closely with patients to offer enhancements tailored to their individual needs that will make them look natural and not “done.”
“Every other type of surgery is hidden,” he explained. “If I do a gallbladder, no one ever sees the gallbladder. It’s not like the face, which the whole world can see. The challenge of plastic surgeries is not only making someone look better, but making them look natural. Good plastic surgery isn’t obvious; it’s subtle.”
Hamawy’s technique has earned him numerous awards, both locally and nationally. He’s been recognized as a New Jersey TOP DOC, a New Beauty Top Beauty Doctor, and a Real Self Top 500 Doctor.
When asked what qualities separate the capable from the great, his answer is simple: Yes, great plastic surgeons must possess proper technique, but they also need the ability to tell a patient when a procedure is not recommended.
“You need to be able to say, ‘No, I can’t do it,’ or ‘No, you should not do that procedure,’ or ‘No, it’s not possible.’ Sometimes, people think we are wizards, but we have limitations. It’s important to know your limitations and understand the patients, because sometimes they might not know what they are asking for.”
Although the majority of procedures performed through at the practice are cosmetic (whether surgical or noninvasive), Hamawy has not let go of his reconstructive roots. Twice a month, he works at a clinic, doing breast reconstruction procedures for women in need. He also takes on reconstructive cases at Robert Wood Johnson, a Level 1 trauma center, at least six times a year.
“I have a passion for this kind of surgery. This is where I started, and I don’t want to lose that. I think to be a good reconstructive surgeon, you need to know excellent cosmetic surgery. But to be a good cosmetic surgeon, you also need to be a good reconstructive surgeon. If you can put a shattered face back together, then a facelift is going to be that much easier.”
Princeton Plastic Surgeons
106 Stanhope Street, Princeton
609.910.1114 / drhamawy.com