The conversation with award-winning celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Ruth Celestin continues. Today, we’re going to reach deep into her roots and discuss culture and heritage. The New Jersey-born daughter of Haitian parents, the surgeon was recently honored by the Creole Image Awards for her accomplishments in her field. Let’s start by discussing her childhood…
Kreyolicious: What was your Haitian-American experience?
Dr. Ruth Celestin: That’s a broad one but I’ll sum it up as follows: Being of Haitian descent but born in America (NJ), my life has been enriched by the culture my parents worked so hard to pass down to my sisters and me. While children of course always want to be the same as their peers and not stand out, we were raised to be proud of who we are, our language, our culture, all of it from a very young age way before it was popular to be Haitian in America. My parents came here for opportunity and that’s exactly what they found. Their experience in this country has contributed in large part to my patriotism and belief in the American dream. This is honestly one of the biggest reasons why I chose to serve my country as a reservist in the US Air Force. So, my Haitian-American experience has been amazing!
Kreyolicious: What role have your parents had in your success?
Dr. Ruth Celestin: No doubt, my parents were the biggest factors in my life that drove me to work hard and strive for success. I know it sounds cheesy but their story— two young people leaving all they know and love behind and immigrating to a strange country, working hard in Manhattan and subsequently New Jersey to carve out a life for themselves and help their entire families immigrate as well— makes it hard for me to rest on my laurels, having been blessed with the gift of being born in this land of opportunity. They are my daily inspiration and I hope I make them proud.
Kreyolicious: Are there things they did that you were miffed about growing up but thank them for now?
Dr. Ruth Celestin: No doubt growing up, they drove me absolutely crazy. They were super strict about everything from grades to going out to how we dressed and wore our hair— everything. I used to think they were doing it just to ruin my social life and was a bit of a renegade. But as I went off to college and started working to become a doctor I quickly understood that all they wanted was to protect me. Now as an adult, I can say I’ll probably raise my kids the same way. Don’t tell them I said that though [Laughter].
Kreyolicious: I won’t! I remember reading this headline about a black surgeon in plain clothes on a plane where a passenger was having some sort of emergency. When the surgeon tried to intervene, her credentials were questioned. Have you ever been in such a situation?
Dr. Ruth Celestin: Yes that incident was really heartbreaking, but sadly not shocking to me. Every day, I have to deal with microagressions against me as a black female surgeon. Someone– from patients to patient families to staff in a new hospital will question my experience, intelligence, credentials or skill based on my appearance, age, sex, or even the fact that I like designer heels and makeup. I have introduced myself as Dr. Celestin to a patient, educated them on their procedure and answered all of their questions only to be asked if my male practice partner would be doing their actual surgery. Black and minority male surgeons don’t quite deal with the level of ingrained societal dismissal that female surgeons and female surgeons of color encounter daily. Some have suggested that I wear a white coat or scrubs more often to help with this issue and make myself “less threatening to other women”, and honestly, I find that suggestion insulting because no such request would be made of a male physician. I think the answer is that we need to do a better job as a society of accepting that doctors come in all colors, genders, religions and from all socioeconomic backgrounds. I’ve responded to many medical emergencies on the side of the road before EMS gets there and never had the grateful accident victims ask to see my credentials before accepting my help or expertise as a surgeon. I hope my future children live in a world where this is no longer an issue. I won’t let it make me bitter, but will continue to be genuinely myself and in so doing hopefully re-educate people about what a surgeon looks like. Whew! That was a mouthful.
Kreyolicious: Do you travel to Haiti often?
Dr. Ruth Celestin: Sadly, no I do not travel to Haiti often. This is a dream of mine and for various reasons it hasn’t yet happened, but it will someday soon.
Kreyolicious: Do you feel close to the Haitian-American community?
Dr. Ruth Celestin: I still feel very connected to the Haitian-American community though because the diaspora is so strong here in the US. My brother-in-law is a restaurateur in New Jersey and so I have Haitian cultural events and fine dining at my fingertips at First Republic Restaurant and Lounge whenever I visit home. He knows to practically bring the food to the airport because I won’t go back to Atlanta without a taste [Laughter] That said, Atlanta still being relatively new to me, I’m always looking to strengthen those community ties and build relationships with Haitian people living here in the A. [Smiles]