L.A. dermatologist uses upbringing to treat patients with respect, tolerance

November 1, 2011

Tanya Kormeili, M.D., was 3 years old when the Iranian Revolution began to unravel her family's life. As pro-democracy Jews living in Tehran, the Kormeilis experienced an erosion of their freedoms with each year of the Ayatollah Khomeini's reign.

Key Points

Dr. Kormeili's father, whose American name is Sean Kormeili, had been educated in the United States. He ran a democracy-friendly newspaper in Tehran and believed in women's equality and religious freedom. Khomeini's rule was known for its human rights violations.

"It was all hush-hush," she says. "We had 20 days to liquidate our lives and escape."

Cultural acumen

Dr. Kormeili learned the English alphabet before the Persian alphabet and took English courses at night when she was living in Tehran. She didn't know Italian, but she took a crash course to attend part of the sixth grade in Milan.

While languages didn't prove challenging, cultural differences came as a shock, she says. "I had spent my entire life, to that point, in an Islamic country as a Jew. From the day you start school, you're not just in uniform, but you have to cover your hair. I went from an all-girls school to a school in Europe. Everybody dressed in very revealing clothes. Boys were in school. It's hard enough to go through puberty, but I had to do it in a completely different culture, with completely different rules."

After spending less than a year in Milan, the family received U.S. green cards. Dr. Kormeili's move to Los Angeles proved to be another eye-opening experience.

"I remember showing up to school towards the very end of sixth grade in Los Angeles," she says. "The first thing people asked me was: How many times does your dad hit your mom? I was thinking, 'Why are you Americans so crazy?' My dad has never hit me, never hit my mom. I realized about that time that the movie 'Not Without My Daughter' had been released. People just assumed that my dad would be like the villain in the movie."

Today a clinical professor in dermatology at David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Kormeili has a multifaceted practice offering dermatologic surgery and medical and cosmetic dermatology in Santa Monica. She says her experiences - living on three continents and being exposed to five languages since age 12 - have equipped her for the ethnically diverse population in Los Angeles.

"I realize people are just different and they have different nuances in their cultures and behaviors," she says. "(My life) has made me very tolerant of those differences."

Tanya Kormeili, M.D.

Born: Tehran, Iran, 1976

Medical degree: University of California, Los Angeles

Internship: UCLA Veterans Administration Medical Center, Los Angeles

Residency: University of California, Irvine Department of Dermatology

Hobbies: Learning new languages (she speaks three - Spanish, Farsi and English), traveling, cooking, working out, socializing, theater, music, dancing, meeting new people

Family: Single