BEACHWOOD, Ohio — Dr. Diana Ponsky loves her job, that much is clear in the way she speaks about her day-to-day work at her practice, Ponsky Facial Plastic Surgery in Beachwood. Double board certified in both facial plastic and head and neck surgery, Ponsky’s work includes everything from rhinoplasties, to neck lifts, to injectable fillers.
“I count myself lucky to be able to make people feel better by themselves,” said the doctor, who is certified by both the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, as well as the American Board of Otolaryngology.
Dr. Ponsky values getting to know her clients, who she said takes her into their confidence, treating her as a sort of therapist, friend, and mentor as she walks them through different surgeries, procedures and services.
“It gives them a little confidence booster, makes them feel great about themselves, and they're still the same person,” said Dr. Ponsky. “I haven't changed anything. I've just kind of balanced them a little bit more.”
Her love of science started in her youth, inspired by a dermatologist she met in high school who became her first mentor. Dr. Ponsky went on to attend NYU on a scholarship and initially considered engineering and lab research before landing on medicine. She continued her studies in medicine at Georgetown, where she attended graduate school and completed her residency, before ultimately landing in Cleveland.
Dr. Ponsky’s journey hasn’t been without its challenges. Her family left Vietnam in 1979, during a post-war time she described as still riddled with “political turmoil.”
“Even though the war ended, there was an instability of life,” she said. “So they decided to leave.”
Her family left Vietnam, seeking refuge in Indonesia. There, Ponsky, her parents, and sisters lived in a refugee camp for about a year.
“I just remember playing with other kids in the refugee camp, I remember, you know, we would make toys out of like, the cans, like the canned food stuff that you would get,” she said.
Through the help of a Catholic agency, Dr. Ponsky’s family was able to leave for the United States, first landing in Allentown, Pennsylvania for a year before moving to New York, where her parents felt they could find better jobs without having to know English as well.
Starting over in a new country, Dr. Ponsky found comfort at school, recalling teachers who were “amazing” and helped foster her learning by supplying her with books like the Nancy Drew series.
“I learned English by reading and watching after-school specials,” she said.
Dr. Ponsky and her sisters were motivated by their parents, who she described as hard-working, blue-collar workers who encouraged them to focus on school, work hard, and go to college. Like many children of immigrant parents of Asian descent, she was encouraged to pursue a career in medicine, dentistry, or law, something her parents deemed “professional.”
“My parents would tell me they escaped the country with nothing but the clothes on their back, basically,” Dr. Ponsky said. “I was always encouraged to, you know, work very hard because that's how you open doors for yourself, basically. The fact that my parents came without any immediate family or knowledge of how to live - how life happens in the States - was a big motivating factor.”
Dr. Ponsky applied those lessons of hard work to her career, and has since been recognized as a Castle Connolly top doctor, and has been named a top doctor in Cleveland. She aims to give back to the next generation of doctors and young professionals, working with residents as a teacher and mentor.
“I would like to be remembered as someone who's encouraged other young women to, you know, feel that it's possible to achieve all this,” she said. “For me personally, I love to see young girls get inspired to go into the math and science field because I think there's a lot of potential there. And it's a way for the young girls also to feel empowered that they have that knowledge.”
Today, Dr. Ponsky has her own practice in Beachwood and lives in Pepper Pike with her husband and their daughters. Dr. Ponsky also keeps up with medical charities, such as Medworks and MedWish International.
Her patient, Stephen Ciocca, expressed his gratitude to Dr. Ponsky after his trips to previous doctors left him feeling uncomfortable and discouraged, unsure if he wanted to go forward with a surgery to correct his breathing problems and make some changes to his nose.
“It's kind of nerve-wracking being a guy going and then saying like, ‘hey, can you help me fix my nose?’” which just kind of carries its own sort of stigma,” Ciocca said.
After meeting Dr. Ponsky and her team, Ciocca was convinced, reflecting on her consistent phone calls checking in on him during his recovery post-surgery to ensure he was healing smoothly.
“Just the care that she has, it's unbelievable,” he said. “She's definitely made me feel super comfortable being here.”
While Dr. Ponsky worked hard to achieve her dreams, she is grateful for all those who helped her along the way and said she recognizes how much of her journey was up to luck, such as her family’s safe passage to the United States. Dr. Ponsky said she is proud of her work with patients, and the recognition the Asian American community is gaining.
“I feel that finally there has been some political awareness of Asian Americans in this country,” she said. “It is very encouraging to see that we are developing a voice and kind of supporting each other through this new professional development.”
“Definitely in the medical arena, we're seeing women take on more of leadership roles. So not just as physicians, but as CEOs of the hospitals,” Dr. Ponsky said. “Our vice president is an Asian American. So I think it's been an amazingly positive growth in that direction. And for me personally, I love to see young girls get inspired to go into the math and science field because I think there's a lot of potential there.”
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EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above previously aired on 3News on May 14, 2023.