People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla surgeon Kiersten Riedler draws from a life of music

Dr. Kiersten Riedler
Dr. Kiersten Riedler, a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon with La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre & Medical Spa, is a former first violinist for The Harvard Pops Orchestra.
(Courtesy of Beck Ellman Heald)

While some might think a violin and a scalpel are as different as can be, Dr. Kiersten Riedler says they require many of the same skills.

And she should know. Over the course of her life, Riedler has gone from using musical instruments to surgical instruments.

“There are a lot of similarities between being a musician and being a surgeon,” she said. “You have to be persistent, willing to put in a lot of work behind the scenes, refine your technique and be disciplined. Both involve working with your hands, and in both, you put in a lot of work to create a final product. You also have to be detail-oriented. They are both sensory — one is auditory and the other is visual.”

Riedler is now a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon with La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre & Medical Spa. But her love of music, like for many, began during childhood with the piano.

“My mom [La Jolla High School graduate Brenda Riedler] was a music teacher and she instilled a love of music in me,” Riedler said. “My dad [Scott Riedler] is also passionate about music; he doesn’t play but he listens to a lot of music.

“I started playing the piano when I was 5, but my fingers were too small, which is great for surgery but not great for piano. When I was in third grade at La Jolla Country Day School, I wanted to take violin.”

The school music teacher offered to give her lessons, and Riedler took to the instrument.

“I don’t know if being a violinist helped me with my dexterity, but I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said.

Kiersten Riedler plays violin at her senior recital at La Jolla Country Day School in May 2003.
(Courtesy of Beck Ellman Heald)

Riedler went on to play with youth orchestras and church music ministries. In college, she was first violinist for The Harvard Pops Orchestra.

But in choosing a career, she was inspired by her father, who was a neurologist until his retirement three years ago.

“I saw his passion for medicine and how much he loved his work,” Riedler said. “In middle school, I really loved math and science and went to the National Youth Leadership Forum on medicine while in high school. We saw surgeries, learned about what it takes to be a doctor and got to shadow doctors. That confirmed my interest in medicine.”

She graduated from Harvard College with honors in neurobiology.

As Riedler was preparing to enter pre-med, “my dad reminded me of the work I needed to do to get there, so I continued to shadow [doctors] and do internships. I was a scribe … which meant I followed the doctors and would write their notes. It was good preparation for med school and good exposure to an ER.”

However, seeing the trauma associated with emergency rooms began to take an emotional toll.

“Even though I studied neurobiology, the head and neck and the facial and cranial nerves are what I was interested in, as opposed to the brain. I also liked seeing the outcome of my work,” said Riedler, who lives in Carmel Valley. “That led me to facial plastics. Someone can do an appendectomy or internal surgery and you wouldn’t know if they did a good job. I liked seeing the outcome and what it means to my patients.

“A lot of plastic surgery is reconstructive and starts with a defect. It’s like a puzzle — there are different ways to reconstruct it, which I thought was fun and challenging. You never have the same case twice.”

She said post-op visits are especially rewarding, when the bandages come off and the patients get to see their changed faces.

But for Riedler, it’s not all about aesthetics. “Breathing is critical to quality of life, which was why I was interested in this field,” she said. “I do a lot of nasal surgery, so I’m not just changing the appearance but helping people breathe.”

Music still has a role for Riedler in the medical field — she listens to it during surgery, though the type depends on the consensus of her surgical teammates.

“Sometimes it’s classical, pop or rock music,” Riedler said with a laugh. “I read a study that suggested surgical precision improves when you listen to AC/DC, but I haven’t tried it yet to confirm.”

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