An Interview with Dr. Rocco Piazza
The Early Years
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Austin, Texas, spending most weekends on Lake Travis with my parents and sisters during the spring and summer. We spent many of our fall and winter weekends at my grandparents' ranch in Smithville, Texas, riding horses and roasting s'mores around bonfires. I completed an undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree as a University Scholar at Baylor University in 2001 and then went to medical school at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
What made you decide to become a plastic surgeon?
At a very early age, I knew I wanted to become a doctor. An innate desire to help others has always been a vital part of my personality. I was a little different than most of my colleagues in that I knew since I was about 13 years old that plastic surgery fascinated me. I spent most of my time during high school and college ruling out other specialties in medicine. By the time I started medical school, I had fully determined that I wanted to become a plastic and reconstructive surgeon so that I could help people feel beautiful inside and out.
Within weeks of entering medical school, I attended a young surgeon society meeting for those interested in surgical specialties. Dr. Linda G. Phillips (chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery at UTMB) was giving a lecture about plastic surgery. She became a mentor, and I later teamed up with 4 other students to resurrect the Plastic Surgery Interest Group. Under the direction and leadership of Dr. Phillips, we became involved in the Division of Plastic Surgery, we studied hard for our licensing exams, and all of us matched into prestigious plastic surgery residency programs across the country in 2005.
"An innate desire to help others has always been a vital part of my personality...by the time I started medical school, I had fully determined that I wanted to become a plastic and reconstructive surgeon so that I could help people feel beautiful inside and out."
Becoming a Plastic Surgeon
What was your favorite clinical research project?
The largest clinical research project that I participated in was the "Tuberous Breast Deformity Study" looking at breast asymmetries in women who presented for all types of breast enhancement surgery. We classified each patient based on the presence of an asymmetry and the presence of a tuberous (misshapen) breast deformity. This was labor-intensive. This was before digital photography was popular for taking before and after photos so all the photographs had been kept in the form of slides. These slides had to be loaded one by one into carousels and then projected on a 6 foot by 6 foot screen and evaluated. This was done for 375 consecutive patients.
What did you learn from this project?
First, that traditional projector slides are very labor-intensive! Second, the majority of women who present for breast enhancement surgery have some form of breast asymmetry. What I have noticed in my clinical practice over the years is that most of my patients don't recognize the presence of an asymmetry at all.
You went to medical school in Texas but completed residency training elsewhere. Why was that?
I decided to do my plastic surgery residency with Michigan State University at the Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center, because I wanted to leave Texas for my surgical training. I knew I would return home one day to practice in the city where I grew up and truly love. I knew that the education in Grand Rapids would be exceptional. I trained under 20 board-certified plastic surgeons, including the world-renowned breast surgeon Dr. Dennis C. Hammond, whom I continue to visit regularly. This diverse training experience gave me wide exposure to many different surgical techniques in facial aesthetics, trauma reconstruction, breast and body contouring, and the latest advances in non-surgical facial rejuvenation. I was exposed to many different ways of achieving an excellent outcome. By having such a wide exposure to different techniques and surgical styles, I was able to create my own unique style so that I could give my patients outstanding results.
What was your favorite thing about Grand Rapids?
Grand Rapids Griffins hockey games and "dollar beer, dollar dog" nights! I lived downtown, across the street from the Van Andel Arena and would walk through the Skywalk in the middle of winter with several feet of snow below to get to the games for this incredible Friday night deal! The contemporary art scene and the Grammy-award winning Grand Rapids Symphony were also highlights of my time spent on the West Coast of Michigan.
A Patient Story
After decades of feeling stuck with a stubborn tummy, Kara started seeking solutions beyond diet and exercise and looked into CoolSculpting treatments.
How did you start your practice?
Knowing that I was coming back to Austin, I wanted to be near the area where I grew up. Southwest Austin had expanded tremendously over the past 10 years. Having aging grandparents and parents in West Austin, I knew how frustrating it was for people who lived in Lakeway, Dripping Springs, Belterra, and Circle C to drive down to the central medical district north of downtown Austin to see their specialty physicians. Based on this, I felt that there was a need in both South and West Austin for excellent care in plastic surgery, both cosmetic and reconstructive. I picked the point in between, and voila: Southwest Austin! I opened The Piazza Center in 2010.
Do you continue training or education?
Absolutely. Medical aesthetics isn't a static field; it's constantly changing. So to be able to continue offering the best options for my patients, I make sure I keep learning. I frequently attend medical conferences and stay up to date on the latest research, and I recently traveled to Stockholm to learn from Dr. Charles Randquist, who specializes in breast augmentation with anatomically shaped breast implants. Europe and other areas have a lot to offer the cosmetic field, and I try to keep my horizons broad. I like to say that we combine innovation with tried-and-true techniques at The Piazza Center. I take the initiative to learn all I can when new methods and devices arise, and then I incorporate the best, most effective options into my practice.
What is your favorite procedure to perform?
I truly love doing any procedure that I know is going to change my patients' lives, but I consider myself a breast augmentation specialist. In particular, I have a lot of interest in anatomically shaped breast implants, because the results that are possible with them are so beautiful and natural-looking. Of course, different implants work well for different bodies, so I offer a wide variety. Finding the perfect implant material, shape, and size is actually one of the most fulfilling – and fun – parts of my work. Patients tend to leave those appointments feeling so excited about their surgical plans. I really love that part of my job.
What sets your practice apart?
We aim for the absolute highest level of care, and a big part of that is our practice philosophy of making patients for life. At a lot of practices, you get your procedure and you have a couple of follow-up appointments, and the whole process lasts a few months. At The Piazza Center, we make a 4-year commitment to every plastic surgery patient. We have several follow-up appointments in the weeks after surgery, and then annual check-ins each year. Many patients stick around even longer because we form a really strong relationship. We understand how impactful plastic surgery can be in people's lives, and so we dedicate ourselves to be there with them for the long haul. We may see fewer patients this way compared with some practices, but it's about providing a top-quality experience. Those patients end up feeling very loyal and bonded to us – and very satisfied with their experience.
"Medical aesthetics isn't a static field; it's constantly changing. So to be able to continue offering the best options for my patients, I make sure I keep learning. I frequently attend medical conferences and stay up to date on the latest research."
What should all patients know before surgery?
My team and I believe in plastic surgery as being just one component of wellness, so we talk with our patients a lot about other things going on in their lives. If patients are interested in procedures to improve their appearance, they often are very open to self-improvement on broader terms. We are happy to discuss exercise and diet goals, ways to keep your skin healthy and protected, and even issues of emotional and mental well-being. I want patients to know before they come in to see us that we are going to dive in deep and work on many different levels of health and beauty.
"We aim for the absolute highest level of care, and a big part of that is our practice philosophy of making patients for life."
Life Outside of Work
What do you like to do when you're not working?
I love anything related to boating and spending time on Lake Travis and Lake Austin. The nice thing about Austin is that boating is a year-round hobby. There is nothing more remarkable than looking at the stars at night that beam through the clear winter sky while drifting freely on Lake Travis. I also love taking advantage of the Austin area's opportunities for leading a healthy lifestyle; swimming at Deep Eddy Pool or Barton Springs, running the trail around Town Lake, waterskiing on Lake Austin, and teaching cycling at Pure Austin Fitness, just to name a few!
Tell us about your family.
I have a great family and am fortunate that we have all stayed in the Austin area. My extended family of sisters and brothers gets together frequently for family events at my mom and dad's house, always with a large helping of pasta and fresh focaccia. I'm proud of my family even though we are constantly communicating at a level that is louder than others ... I prefer to describe this as an excited, energetic, and very animated way of having a conversation.
What are your plans for the future?
Continue learning the latest in new surgical techniques and non-invasive technologies to bring my patients the most up-to-date treatment in the field of plastic surgery. To continue to explore ways to offer my patients a comprehensive, lifelong approach to looking and feeling good. Just to keep doing what I'm passionate about and finding ways to help my patients get as much out of life as I do.