By Tina Irgang
When Marina Peredo arrived in New York City, she was just 18 years old. Born and raised in Ukraine, she barely spoke a word of English, but in short order, she graduated from college and moved on to med school — all while raising a young son. Today, she heads Skinfluence, a cosmetic dermatology practice on legendary Park Avenue.
How old were you when you first came to the U.S.?
Peredo: I was 18. I was born in Kiev, and I finished high school in Ukraine. At that time, it was still the Soviet Union. … I graduated as valedictorian, and I was not accepted into Kiev University. I wanted to be a bio major, a scientist. At that time in Russia, the entrance exams were oral exams. … I got an excellent grade in biology and chemistry, and then I was failed in math. That was probably my strongest subject. I tried to argue with the professor, but he said “What part of failed don’t you understand?” … The system at that time was so corrupt. Most universities and colleges had a list of people to be accepted. People could pay a bribe to be accepted. I’d never failed at anything in my life and it was devastating, so my parents said, we’re definitely leaving the country.
What were the first few years in the U.S. like?
Peredo: We came to New York in 1980. I decided to apply to Queens College. All the Russians in New York went there. I didn’t know you had the option to apply to more than one school. … I actually spoke very little English when I came, even though I took English in high school. My extent of conversational English was “Hi, I’m Marina, I’m 18 and the Communist Party will lead us to the greatest future.” … I took English as a Second Language in the first semester and scored high in that. … And when I met with my pre-med advisor, he basically told me, “Unless you’re able to speak English, you will never be able to get into medical school.”
I changed my major to chemistry and was going to become a chemical engineer. Then I got married and had a child in college. When I graduated, I hated my life and I decided to just try and apply to medical school. I thought maybe there’s a small chance my professor was wrong.
Then I applied at all of the New York schools and got several interviews. The last was at Mount Sinai, where I ended up going. … And when I went to Sinai, the dean of admissions was interviewing me, and he asked me, “Do you know why I decided to interview you? You were the only one who had a handwritten personal statement.” … It was because I didn’t know how to type, but I said I thought it was more personal. And he said, “That was exactly the answer I was looking for.” … Go figure, that’s the thing that got me the interview. And then I got into Sinai.
What made you want to work in dermatology?
Peredo: My first love was surgery, because by nature, I’m very artistic. In college, I took some painting. Now I do sculpting, and before, I thought, if I had any talent, I would be a fashion designer. … I didn’t have any talent in that, but I decided to combine my love for fashion and beauty and science to go into plastic surgery. At that time, 20 years ago, plastic surgery was very tough to get into. You had to do five years of general surgery, then two years of plastic. … [At that time], as a general surgeon, you would pretty much work from five in the morning to 10 at night. … That was going to be five years of your life. I was so close to applying, but my concern was, my son was five … and I thought, how unfair is that to him? … I would never be able to go to his soccer games. I think the final decision was, one of the female surgeons at Sinai, she was doing vascular surgery… I met her for lunch. She was on call. She looked like a hot mess, her hair was a mess, her scrubs were wrinkled. … And I looked at her and thought, this is going to be my life. I was very much a girly girl. I just couldn’t do that.
I wanted to find a specialty that had a more decent lifestyle, and it was between ophthalmology, dermatology and radiology. … Ophthalmology, when you see the bloodshot eyeball, it totally grossed me out. Derm I just loved because it was not aesthetic at the time, but it was very visual; it was more like problem solving. … I think I found what I really loved to do, which is making women look beautiful. Eighty percent of my patients are women. Also, forming relationships. A lot of times, if people seek aesthetic procedures, they’re going looking for a new job and they feel they’re too old for the company. Or the kids left for college, and now they’re kind of lost and trying to find themselves. I like to make them look a little better and give them that confidence back.
It’s often said that Americans are too obsessed with looking young. What’s your take on that?
Peredo: I think when I ask my patients “What brings you here,” a lot of times it’s not that they want to look younger. A lot of times, they just want to look better, more attractive. So I don’t know if looking younger is necessarily the driving factor for them to seek help. I think it’s just being the best version of themselves, because I get some young people too. They might come in because they have acne. A recent case was this girl in our Long Island office, she was in the last year of high school. She had severe acne. … She asked whether she could be home-schooled, and the school said no. … How unfair is that? I looked at her and wanted to cry. … After five months, she looked like a different person, she went to prom, and came back with a thank-you note. … It was nothing to do with looking younger, but it was just a disease that she had. She had the ability to go back to school, have a boyfriend, go to college and just look great. … I do a lot of mentoring. I teach residents at Mount Sinai. … Women should encourage other women. I was fortunate that I had a couple of female mentors in my life, and it’s really helped me professionally and personally.
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