In 1953 he began working at a Brazilian hospital. On December 17, 1961, a burning circus tent fell on 2,500 spectators in the Brazilian city of Niterói. Pitanguy treated burn victims for weeks on an emergency basis. He later referred to the event as life changing, as it taught him that for many, physical appearance was critical to living. Pitanguy founded a private clinic called Clínica Ivo Pitanguy in the Botafogo section of Rio de Janeiro where he operates on clients and trains surgeons.