Dr. Jason Roostaeian (second from right) blends his enthusiasm for surgery and music with help from his Help the Doctor bandmates (from left) Drs. Solomon Poyourow, Phuong Nguyen and Robert Kang.
In 1972, Dr. Hook memorably sang of its yearning to get on the cover of Rolling Stone: “... the thrill we’ve never known/is the thrill that’ll getcha/when you get your picture/on the cover of the Rollin’ Stone!” More than 40 years later, another doctor — a real one this time, Jason Roostaeian, MD ’06 (RES ’10, ’12, FEL ’14) — harbors similar, and perhaps more elevated, ambitions.
Sure, RS would be great, but Dr. Roostaeian, a UCLA aesthetic and microvascular plastic surgeon, would prefer to land on the cover of The New England Journal of Medicine. Though, after a thoughtful pause to further ponder the choices, the bass-playing physician acfknowledges: “That’s a tough one.”
In either case, Dr. Roostaeian could be the poster child for living one’s passions in life. His love of music and surgery each fuel the other, he says. And when he’s not shredding the bass and throttling a microphone, he finds time as often as possible to ride the waves in Malibu. “I definitely pursue my passions,” he says. “It has to do with your overall well-being and happiness. When you’re in a good place, it helps you to be more productive with everything in life.”
Listen to Help the Doctor
In pursuit of that balance, Dr. Roostaeian and three fellow surgeons formed an indie rock band, Help the Doctor, during their training at UCLA. With its driving, catchy melodies and versatile rhythms reminiscent of such bands as Weezer and Death Cab for Cutie, Help the Doctor has cultivated a loyal following, with a sold-out debut at the Troubadour in West Hollywood and jam-packed gigs along the Sunset Strip at The Roxy, the Viper Room and the House of Blues. Recently, the band recorded its first EP with Grammy Award-winning producer Chris Testa (The Dixie Chicks, Jimmy Eat World) and plans to lay down another this winter.
The sweaty appreciation of enthusiastic fans is great, and making each show a fun experience for the crowd has its rewards, but staying grounded also is important. Dr. Roostaeian (who began performing under the nom de guerre Jay Roost but now takes the stage with his real name) and the other members of Help the Doctor — all of whom practice outside of UCLA: plastic surgeons Phuong Nguyen, MD (RES ’14), on lead vocals and guitar and Robert Kang, MD (FEL ’12), on guitar, keyboards and vocals, and maxillofacial surgeon Solomon Poyourow, MD ’10 (RES ’13), DDS ’07, on drums — donate the band’s profits to children’s facial-reconstructive charities, such as Facing Forward and Operation Smile. “Being able to create music together is the fun part, but having the opportunity to help raise money for charities has made it truly special for us,” Dr. Roostaeian says.
As a surgeon at UCLA, Dr. Roostaeian has stayed close to home. He grew up in Westwood and Brentwood, attended what is now the UCLA Laboratory School and as a teen heard Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses play in Pauley Pavilion. “UCLA definitely was my playground,” he says. He taught himself to play bass in junior high school after he mistakenly bought one through a local classified that advertised it as a guitar, and he had ambitions of working in the music industry. While an undergrad at UCLA, from which he graduated summa cum laude in 2002 with a degree in economics, he interned at the Santa Monica-based label Mojo Records. But the advent of digital music and other changes to the music world made the industry less appealing as a career path; he opted instead for medical school.
His mother was instrumental in Dr. Roostaeian’s choice to pursue plastic surgery. A pediatric nurse at UCLA, Nancy Roostaeian was assisting in the care of Guatemalan conjoined twins who were separated at UCLA in 2002, and she introduced her son to several of the plastic surgeons working on the case. “It was an epiphany for me,” Dr. Roostaeian says. “In plastic surgery, you are creating; it melds both science and art. It really was the perfect fit for me.”
As a medical student, Dr. Roostaeian was a standout. He earned the prestigious UC Regents Scholarship and received the Longmire Medal, which is awarded to the top-graduating student in surgery. After completing his residency training at UCLA, he spent a year at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he pursued an additional specialization in advanced aesthetic surgery. He returned to UCLA to complete a fellowship in microvascular surgery.
“With facial aesthetic surgery, it is an art to achieve a balance between what needs to be accomplished and what the doctor and patient think is beautiful,” he says. And being good at aesthetic surgery dovetails with the technical aspects of being a good reconstructive surgeon, he says. “Sometimes you are forced to push the envelope because, for example, cancer took something away, and you have to be a little more creative about how to restore what was lost.”
The logo of Help the Doctor
His fellow band members say it’s no surprise that Dr. Roostaeian is an expert at both. “There’s a reason why Jason is good at playing bass and guitar and at performing surgery,” says bandmate Dr. Nguyen. “There’s a lot of similarity between playing music and the manual dexterity involved in surgery. And he is technically gifted. He has an ability to make his fingers move and do what his mind tells them to do.”
But as much fun as it is to swap his scrubs for T-shirts and blue jeans, play music and perform, Dr. Roostaeian puts being a doctor first. The musical outlet is a way to keep him centered and focused on his true mission. “I wouldn’t call the band a second career,” Dr. Roostaeian says. “Plastic surgery is my career; it is about connecting with patients and having a positive impact on their lives. Creating music is a passion of mine that I always have had, and I am just happy to be able to continue it, especially with such a great group of guys and for charity. It really doesn’t get any better.”
Freelance writer Marina Dundjerski rocks the Westside from her home in Los Angeles.