Inspiring Women – Dr. Tabasum Mir

By Karen Floyd

by Karen Floyd

How did a child born of Arab parents in Kashmir and raised in the Muslim faith, land in a small Midwestern town to grow up amongst blue-eyed, blond-haired Christian children from whom she stood apart, only to find her “fit” at the age of 20 in the greatest city on earth: that melting pot of ethnicity, New York? The answer may very well lie with her late father, a trained physician from the northernmost region of India, who became recertified in the United States after he and his wife immigrated here with their six-month-old daughter. Her parents instilled in her a strong work ethic, held her to high expectations, and allowed “zero tolerance for mediocrity,” no matter what the task. TABASUM MIR would study at the NYC School of Medicine, train at Manhattan Eye Ear and Throat Hospital, and become a board-certified elastic-plastic surgeon who today is widely recognized as a pioneer in non-surgical cosmetic medicine and oculoplastic facial and cosmetic surgery, with a specialty in ocular and facial plastics and cosmetic surgery. Her objective? To help her patients find a place of peace where they can elevate their innate, natural beauty and actualize their most elegant selves.


Tabasum Mir, your name is melodic . . . what is its meaning and origin?

My name is Tabasum which means smile in many different languages: Persian, Arabic, and Urdu. Each language has a different pronunciation. My family is from Kashmir, which is in the Himalayas between India and Pakistan, on the Indian-occupied side.

Where were you born and how old were you when you came to the United States?

I was born in Kashmir. My mom and dad were ready to leave Kashmir because my father wanted to have a better life for us. My mom’s parents asked them to give birth to me in India because I was the first grandchild. I was born there, but when I was six months old, we left.

Have you returned?

I was there last, 10 years ago. It’s hard for me to go back because of the political climate but I am overdue for a visit. We used to go back every four years, but I have not been regular in my visits, as an adult. We spent a couple of summers there in the second and third grades which I remember fondly.

How many brothers and sisters do you have?

I have one sister and I consider her husband like my brother. I also have two nieces.

And you grew up where in the United States?

I was in Michigan until the age of 20 and then I came to New York. I have been here for 26 years.

From where does your work ethic stem?

My work ethic comes from my immigrant parents. There is no question about that. There was zero tolerance for mediocrity. We had to work hard no matter what we did. Whether working at a gas station or studying, we had to excel because of the sacrifices they made to come here. Think about how hard it was for my mom and dad to leave everything they knew with a six-month-old infant. My dad knew there would be better opportunities here. Anybody who has immigrant parents recognizes a commonly held and different work ethic. Though we share gratitude, we balance feeling grateful and also feeling like an outsider. I sometimes did not feel like I was American.

Was that largely because you moved to a very small, homogenic midwestern town?

Yes, a seriously small town.

You are a brilliant and beautiful woman. How did you not feel a part of that community?

I don’t know. Everybody was blonde-haired and blueeyed. I did not match their standard of beauty, which was the traditional, wholesome kind of Midwestern girl… one that was born and raised with generations of family originating from there.

When he came to the United States, what did your dad do professionally?

He was trained as a physician but when he came to the US, he had to do his residency all over again. When we left Kashmir, first we went to London, England. My dad experienced racism, his contemporaries told him he would never be a senior physician because he was brown. So, he decided to come to the US. He flew to New York, stayed in a cheap hotel in Times Square, and started calling people that he knew from Kashmir.

He randomly called my uncle (not my real uncle), traveled to Michigan, and slept on my uncle’s couch for like a week until they found him an opening in a residency program in Huntington, West Virginia. They took a road trip to West Virginia, and my uncle tells a story of me in the back seat reading EKGs. There were no cell phones at the time. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment above a parking garage while my dad did his residency. We were there for maybe a year and then we left for Michigan. He was a risk taker and I see where I get it from now.

You have taken risks. I’ve watched your professional trajectory, and it is impressive. You are not the quintessential Midwestern small-town girl, are you?

A small town was tough for me. Though I hated living in a small town, by contrast, my sister liked it. It never felt right to me, which is weird to think about but in hindsight, I don’t even remember a time when it felt normal. I enjoyed the closeness of our family, and I am so grateful for that. But even at age six, I felt claustrophobic. It was difficult.

At age 12 you entered high school. What was the biggest challenge?

Not driving. That was the biggest problem because I could not get a driver’s license until my senior year. I lied about my age in the first grade because I was five and embarrassed of being younger than everyone else. Before I had even started school, I was reading at a fourth-grade level reading because of my mom.

Your father passed away in 2005. Did he see your career path in full stride?

He saw it starting, and knew it was happening. He never had doubts because I was always looking for something better. He saw me start my first practice. I told him I was being treated like a second-class citizen. The older, male doctors were giving me their scraps, not the right patients. I told him that I would be better off starting my own practice. He said, “Okay, do it.” I did it because he gave me that confidence.

Like your father, you are not risk-averse.

Yes. But I didn’t know he was like that until I was older. He would quietly watch. Looking back, I think he recognized that shared characteristic or personality trait in us both. He saw that in me, but he didn’t say anything, he let me figure things out. He did see my practice taking off in the beginning, though.

When did you know you wanted to be a physician?

I don’t know if I ever really knew there was a choice because that was what we were expected to do. We become physicians. That’s my culture. I did really well at school, so I don’t know if I ever thought about it, I just did it.

Were you good at math?

Yes. Up until I wasn’t.

Math, physics, or biology. Which is your strength?

I hated physics until I taught it in college and then I liked it. I liked biology right off the bat.

It just flowed because . . . ?

Biology is visual.

Tell me about medical school.

I enjoyed medical school.

How hard was it on a scale of 1-10?

It was very hard. It was 11.

Did you think you would make it through?

I never doubted it. I loved medical school. I sat next to a Navy Seal and there were two Navy Seals in my medical school class. One was so scary that I couldn’t even make eye contact with him. The other one, Hunter, was friendly, he could be the guy next door. I said, “This must be easy for you because you are a Navy Seal.” He said, “It is the same exact thing as being a Navy Seal because it’s all mental.” I never forgot what he said, and it has stayed with me.

Do you think that illness is mental?

I think illness is mental in a lot of ways.

Do you think that physical beauty is mental?

Yes. Sometimes results are not about what you physically see but about how you feel. I can have a perfect result but if the patient doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t matter what I did.

Can you train your mind to stay positive despite it being otherwise?

Yes. But others can impact that positivity. I was very positive until other people would get involved in my life. Slowly and insidiously their influence could change me, and then all of a sudden, I was not positive anymore.

From a very young age, I wanted to be a doctor and go to medical school. When I was 11 or 12, a lady said, “Okay well what’s your backup plan?” It made me so angry. You are telling me as a 12-year-old to have a backup plan? Basically, she was implying I would fail at this, so I needed a backup plan. I remember thinking, what are you teaching your kids at 12?

That story tells me that you have run through some brick walls.

Yes. Plowed through them.

Did you have any hiccups in medical school?

I think I would just define hiccup as the following. I was very young. I was 20 when I started medical school. I didn’t have social maturity, even though academically I was fine. When you are 20 or 21 it is difficult to feel empathy with some people. For example, at that age when people would tell me that they couldn’t quit smoking because of what had happened in their life, it was very hard for me to understand. I remember thinking, this is killing you. Why can’t you stop?

There was also a young Arabic woman who was probably only in her early thirties and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I lacked the emotional capacity to just sit with her and just be there for her. I had to be the doctor. I would tell you that I learned true empathy later.

You just were missing the life experiences that provide perspective?

Yes. That’s really what it comes down to. I had very little life experience in medical school.

You then became a plastic surgeon. Can you take the readers through those steps?

After medical school, you do a residency program. I didn’t want to practice in trauma, but I was interested in aesthetics. So, I did further training for plastic and the cosmetic surgery.

You have distinguished your practice as specializing in minimally invasive procedures. What does that mean in layman’s terms?

The world right now is focused on minimally invasive procedures. Fifteen years ago, you had two different paths: surgery or fillers (Botox). That was it, those were your choices. I remember people saying, “I’m only 40 years old, I don’t need Botox.” It’s funny to think about that because now, 20-year-old patients are using Botox for prevention. The whole culture has changed, and people are starting sooner to preserve youthfulness longer as opposed to waiting for something surgical. A lot of people look surgical, but they don’t look youthful.

What is the number one beauty tip that you give everyone?

Number one, used to be, to wear sunblock. I think my number one now is the less you drink alcohol and the more you can sleep, the better you look.

Sleep is really important. How many hours do you require?

I am okay with six or seven, eight hours is great. My sister needs nine hours. Whatever your body needs, but just make sure you go to bed at a regular time every day and avoid drinking too much Anybody who drinks and stops drinking sees an improvement in their looks.

You talk a lot about your sister. Tell me about her.

We are both cut from the same cloth, but we are also different. There is no other person I would consider as emotionally tough. We have been through a lot together, but we are so different. I always used to say she is more like Jacqueline Onassis, and I am more like Marilyn Monroe. She’s very classic and has worn the same foundation since high school. I have worn hundreds. She sticks with things she likes and does not change.

Did she end up in the medical profession?

Yes. We both became doctors. She is a primary care doctor outside of DC, the DC, McLean, and Vienna areas. She is an excellent diagnostician, while I enjoy doing procedures.

What is the primary difference between your patients in Florida versa patients in New York?

In New York, everybody asks if it hurts. There also is a lot of “shopping” in New York. Generally, by the time a patient sees you in Florida, they have decided on an outcome or procedure. In New York, there is more candy in the candy store. But the Florida patients, they know why they are there and have an idea of what they want to accomplish. There are much less expensive places in Florida, so they come to a certain caliber of doctor’s office and expect commensurate prices.

What practice do you like better, New York or Florida? You have to pick one.

New York, because it’s mine. It is small but mighty and we are doing things that some of the biggest practices are not yet doing, and I have been doing them for years. I love that and I am proud of it.

I read in a 2004 interview about what specific qualities you would hope to have in a life partner.

Oh my God, I really wish Andy was here right now. I thought that interview would be buried.

Well, I found it. I think your husband is a great life partner for you.

We make sense. I was on a reality show, and I did not know what reality TV was about. They asked me to write down a description of my ideal life partner. They said, just be whimsical, be funny, be outrageous. No one’s ever going to see this. But anyone who was on the show’s website saw it. I get so embarrassed, and Andy will routinely call the girls at the office and ask “Hey guys, did you see Tab’s dating bio? It’s me.” And he’ll read it to them.

If I am in a bad mood, Andy will text me the dating bio I wrote. It says, I want somebody who is of Norwegian descent with a nice bone structure, who is well-read but doesn’t take himself too seriously. He wants to settle down and has a great sense of humor.

Be careful what you ask for. It is literally Andy. On our second date, he found the dating bio…

Unfortunately, your father did not get to meet Andy.

No. It’s sad. I think they would have gotten along great. My dad was very serious and stoic. If you have read about stoic philosophers, that was my dad. The man had patience and perseverance.

Epicurus and Plato.

Yes. That was my dad. He was never rattled despite my mom being a firecracker. In the eye of the storm, he would be the calm one.

When you say Andy, did you know he was “it?”

No, I just remember thinking he was cute and funny. I was excited that I met a cute boy in Manhattan because it is “slim pickings.” I always dated handsome men. I never really thought I was going to get married and never really wanted to get married. I was so focused on my career, and I really enjoyed the independence. So, I didn’t look at him and think, oh my God, he’s the one. Actually, quite the opposite. I just thought he would be some handsome guy and maybe we would have a fling.

I feel like I have known him before in another life. In many ways, we get along so well, but there are times where we drive each other nuts, which is normal. He always tells me that my parents sent him here for me. Because I lost both of them.

What happened?

My dad died suddenly of a heart attack at age 62. It was shocking because he was in good shape and took good care of himself. He was active. It happened right after we landed in Kashmir, in 2005, so maybe it was a pulmonary embolism. We don’t know because they don’t do autopsies there. My mom died of a broken heart. She just couldn’t get over it. She decompensated emotionally after that, stopped taking care of herself, and her health deteriorated. She did not want to be around, did not want to live.

He was her world. And we joked around and said we never knew they liked each other that much. We really did everything we could, my sister and I, to make her happy and get her to spring back to life. Nope. She was done.

How long after your father?

Five years. I told her, you must live until you are at least 80 years old. She would look at me with such sadness. It was crazy because we never expected what happened.

Do you think that people can “will” their own death?

I do. I think your mind is very powerful.

I’m curious about your faith.

I was raised Muslim and I have a lot of comfort in the traditions that we had growing up, like attending mosque on Fridays and fasting for Ramadan, which was really special. We would wake up in the morning and my mom would always have some food ready for us. Then we would celebrate with other family members in our area, so a lot of my faith growing up was strong.

When I was singularly focused on medical school and achieving in that field, my dad said, “You will enter a season in your life when you become more spiritual and a better person.” I didn’t understand what he was saying at the time. I do now.

In the divineness of it all, I think we are all created equally, and we are all connected. Our journey is just to figure out how to remain connected as we get older because we become so disconnected from whatever source of happiness and joy there is. I think children are connected. If you are lucky, when you get older, you become connected irrespective of religion.

Was your father a practicing Muslim?

Yes, he was. He prayed five times a day. He would never say this, but I think he was very much a Sufi. He was such a philosopher, and his religious practice transcended the physical act of prayer.

Did he regularly read the Quran?

Yes, but he lived the teachings. There are people who are religious that are judgmental and who are religious for the optics. “I’m praying, look at me . . . I’m donating to the church, look what a great religious person I am.” He was none of that. He was just quiet, and religion was his own journey. He knew I did not have the same mindset, but he had patience and faith that I would get there.

When you see the conflict in the Middle East, does it touch you?

Yes. Because the conflict is between two brothers who are fighting. We are the same, but God, this fight will probably never be resolved.

Andy is Christian?

Talk about two pieces of a puzzle . . . I have seen so many similarities in the strength of our families’ beliefs. Andy and I are not as religious as our families are, but we are very spiritual, which is funny because he is Christian, and I am Muslim. Our families are similar in the goodness of their hearts and their kindness. Andy’s family has shown me so much kindness.

I remember the first time they prayed. It was Thanksgiving and everybody got into a circle and held hands. They were praying in the name of Jesus, praising their family and their religion. I remember feeling uncomfortable because I felt once again that I was the outsider. But they were so… and continue to be so . . . warm, loving, and welcoming so it doesn’t matter. Andy’s dad texts me saying, Happy Ramadan. I don’t think he would have done that if he did not know me.

Do you want children?

I never wanted children and Andy has two kids. He is a man who has always wanted children and he is wonderful with kids. In many ways, he is a big kid. I think he relates authentically, in a completely fun-loving way, with kids, more than he does with adults. He definitely plays and is present with them. He coaches kids and can bring children out of their shells. I wasn’t wired that way. I can’t explain it. I don’t know if there was a past life where I had 50 kids…I have always understood the sacrifice that you need to make to have kids, and I never wanted to do that.

Is it possible to be as driven, successful, and professionally focused as you are and also give the same dedication to children?

No. I knew that from a young age.

How do you juggle that with Andy’s children?

It wasn’t easy and requires a lot of communication. Personally, it was really hard for me to say my feelings about having children, out loud, to Andy. As a woman, not wanting to have kids is considered abnormal. People don’t believe you and if you say it, it is an unpopular point of view. Oprah is probably the only other person I know who never wanted to have kids. I made that decision knowing the sacrifice needed and not wanting to make that sacrifice.

In the beginning of our relationship, I thought that Andy would just do what he wanted when it came to seeing the kids. But I am structured, and I need to know the schedule, which was a big challenge for us.

Alone time. Is it important to you?

Yeah. I need it to regenerate.

How much time do you need alone? Is it daily? Is it a practice of meditation? How do you self-calibrate?

Karen, I think you get this. You are your own brand, and I am my own brand, whether I want to be or not. I need to find time every single day to reset. Even if it means sitting in a taxi or a car and just taking a couple of deep breaths. That’s it. Intentional. Deep breaths. I do not meditate because I can’t find time for meditation, not because I don’t believe in it. I fully believe in meditation. I just don’t have it in me; I think I have too much ADD to sit and meditate for 10 minutes. But I do deep breaths, intentional, deep breaths. Sometimes that is all I need.

What are you afraid of?

Afraid of failure and death.

You are afraid of death?

I had a strong sensation as a young kid that my parents wouldn’t be around for very long. I don’t know why. I just
knew it.

Are you afraid of your death or the death of those you love?

I was afraid of my parents dying . . .

So, you faced your worst fear?

Yes. Their death has been the worst thing I have ever faced. I felt that fear from a young age, a feeling that they would die too soon. My mom would go to a party, she would come back, and I would be crying hysterically because she was gone for too long. I think it was because I sensed this.

Do you think that you were born with an enhanced sensitivity or enlightenment?

I do. I think sometimes I forget about it because I get so busy.

Are you open to clairvoyance or even reincarnation?

I am but I don’t like the word reincarnation. You know what I mean, and I suppose there’s no other real word for it. There are just things I can’t explain but are ingrained in me. Why did I not like being in a small town from ages 6, 7, 8? That doesn’t make sense. How did I know? I had a bad feeling about my parents. I knew the last time I was with my mother, that it would be the last time I would see her. I actually said to myself, “This is the last time I will see my mom on this earth.” That is truly what I said. And I remember thinking, what the hell’s wrong with you? Snap out of it. I don’t know where
these feelings come from.

When you meet a person, do you have a visceral feeling?

I do.

And when you don’t listen to that, what happens?

I am always screwed. Sometimes I question these thoughts and think to myself, maybe I am misjudging them. I have some patients, that as soon as we meet, I know it will not be the right fit.

And do you say that?

Especially in this stage of my professional life, where I don’t need to take every patient that comes to me, I tend to be direct. In the beginning, when I was establishing the practice, trying to be a great doctor and do my best, I ignored warning signs and rationalized by saying, “This person needs this, that person needs that.” Now I have a talk with my staff to see how the patient is interacting with them and it helps me to gauge my gut feeling, irrespective of what they want to have done. Because, as I mentioned before, a lot of the success is not the technical success, it’s meeting their emotional expectations. I definitely have not taken patients because I didn’t think it was the right fit. I pass on being their doctor because I care and if I didn’t care, I would take everybody as a patient.

What do you want to accomplish?

I want more peace.

How do you get that?

You have to consciously seek peace. I used to be available for everybody all the time. There was no peace. Now I need to enjoy myself a little bit more. I am taking time out to do that. It doesn’t need to be an extended vacation. It needs to be a little bit of time every day. Even if it involves not answering the phone for an hour or playing a lot more pickleball.

I want to hear about pickleball.

It has been great for me. The name is goofy, I wish it had a sexier name.

It sounds like an old person thing.

It was an old person thing, but those old people kick my butt. They are so good.

Do you play doubles with Andy?

No, we cannot play together. He’s way too good and I am not that good. I tend to play competitively with people who are at my level. If I play competitively with people who are his level, I get killed.

Which is not fun.

It’s not fun for me. It’s not fun for them.

And you like winning?

Yes. It’s great to win. But I like playing so if I don’t win and it’s a fun game, at least I can have a laugh or a chuckle. If I know I played a great game even though I didn’t necessarily win, it’s fun.

A lot of really good tennis players are playing now which is challenging because they jump into pickleball and pick it up like it is no big deal. They have all the muscle memory, and I clearly didn’t come from a tennis background.

If you could ask God a question, what would you ask him?

Where are my parents?

Do you think that there is fairness in the world?

I think that there is, but that is a tough question. If you expect everything to be fair all the time, you will be disappointed, because I don’t think everything is always fair. Was it fair that I lost both of my parents? No, but I think because I lost them, I really plowed into life harder. The people that I was living for are not here anymore which taught me to live harder and proceed further. I think I did more with them not being here.

Was your father’s approval important to you?

Yes.

Was he the most important driver to your decision-making early on?

No, it was my mom.

Really?

My mom was like, “You are going to do this, or I will kick your butt.” In Kashmir, she was a principal, a headmaster of an all-women’s high school. And she was very loved and feared, just like my grandmother. My mom ruled with an iron fist, but she was also the sweetest, the life of the party while still being a firecracker.

Was she pretty?

Beautiful. She had the same color eyes that you have. Light eyes, beautiful skin. She was stunning. In fact, when she was younger, she said all the boys wanted to meet her, but she was just not interested, she was traditional. My niece reminds me a lot of my mom because she is a complete firecracker, just fearless and full of emotion. Everyone says when she would walk into the room, the room would light up. There was no question. She was the opposite of my dad who was very understated, while my mom was the star.

You have two philanthropic focuses; one is Life’s water. What is that all about?

Andy’s uncle started a project funding people in Rwanda to come to the United States to attend school. The idea is that they finish out their schooling here to return to Rwanda and make their community better.

Part of that project is providing water. In many countries, there is a lack of water for girls during their menstrual cycle. Having the ability to access clean water in these places is fundamental. Think about when your water shuts off for the day or you have a water leakage. How much does it affect you? Think about the fact that people live like this with no fundamental necessities that we take for granted. Young girls on their menstrual cycle are prohibited from attending school because they are not considered clean. Water is so basic, and by providing access it allows them to just feel human.

And your other charity?

Maya’s Hope. Maya, if you meet her, is a remarkable human being, a freaking angel. She goes to third-world countries and finds orphanages where they have severely handicapped children. She finds foster homes for the children. She is focusing now on handicapped children from Ukraine, Russia, those sorts of countries. These are kids that are just born and left to die because they are not considered human, and she finds them homes.

I have been helping with that behind the scenes. Maya has galas every year and Andy MCs them to raise money. If you just look at these stories and the families that adopt these children, they’re incredible. I look at what I do and it’s nothing compared to what they do. They’re taking a child who the world has forgotten, who has no hope left and they bring them back and nurse them back to life.

What do you want to be remembered for?

That I was a kind and authentic person . . . and that I gave my absolute best. I guess I never really thought about it.

What piece of advice would you tell a young woman, maybe your younger self?

I did not expect so many people to not want me to succeed . . . or to wish for my failure. It is such a bizarre thing for me to grasp, I do not know why or understand it. How can someone, your average person, look at what you are doing and feel resentful? Is it because they did not try or do it themselves? I never injected myself into anyone else’s life. They never had to ask for my permission to do whatever they wanted to do. But somehow, with me, seeking my own destiny caused a lot of people to try and stop me. I’m talking in the most subtle ways. Like, “Oh, you want to open up your own medical practice? Well, do you know how expensive it is to make business cards? It cost $10,000. I don’t know how you’re going to afford everything.”

I would tell that young woman seeking her destiny, don’t listen to anybody. Create your own path and be unapologetic for it. If you are purposeful, kind, have ethics, and you persevere, you will get there. Certainly, don’t listen to the people that tell you, “You can’t do it.” Even if the person is your mother, father, boyfriend, or your girlfriend. Don’t listen. If you believe it, then it will happen.

I don’t think that God will place a dream in your heart, for it not to happen. That is a hundred percent how I feel. If other people try to stop you, don’t listen to them. I never did.

Sometimes it would really hurt my feelings, the things people would say. I would just say, you know what? They don’t know me. Once, I took an in-service exam (an exam that monitors your academic progress) and I did terribly. I had been on call the night before and had zero sleep. A physician in my residency program took me in a room behind closed doors. He looked at me and he said, “You did so bad on this exam, we could have hired a blindfolded monkey, and the monkey could have typed in these answers and done better than you.” That was mean and cruel. I just sat there stone cold, and I remember thinking, this jerk is trying to make me cry, but I will not allow that to happen. The entire time I told myself, this will pass, and I will succeed. He will be stuck here in this room forever and I will be just fine. He was so upset that I didn’t get emotional . . . What you need is to always believe in yourself.

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