The medical aesthetic industry is booming. According to AmSpa’s 2019 Medical Spa State of the Industry Report, the annual revenue for the industry as a whole is estimated to approach or surpass $10 billion in 2019, which would represent an increase of more than 919 percent from 2010. The number of medical spas in the United States has more than quadrupled since 2010—from 1,600 to an estimated 6,582 in 2019—and the average medical spa brings in more than $1.5 million in revenue.
Thus, it makes sense that an ambitious dermatologist might be curious about joining or founding a medical spa as a medical director. And although it certainly seems to make sense to join a flourishing industry, there are a number of reasons why you might not want to take that leap. Here are some pros and cons of becoming a medical director for an aesthetic practice.
Dermatologists are among the specialists known in the medical spa industry as “core doctors”—doctors whose specialties align with the industry in fundamental ways. Core doctors tend to incorporate their medical spas into their existing practices, which is a less lucrative business model than running spas as a business independent of practices. However, the money still can be exceptionally good, especially if the dermatologist in question allows his or her medical spa to be run as an independent arm of the business by people who understand how to effectively market and promote a more retail-focused business.
Now is the time to earn your money in the medical aesthetics industry. AmSpa’s report suggests that the value of the industry is projected to double in the next five years, and given that it projects a fairly conservative rate of growth compared with those of recent years, the actual rate of growth could be even higher. Dermatologists are in a uniquely advantageous position to benefit from this. (Author’s note: The 2019 Medical Spa State of the Industry report is available for purchase on americanmedspa.org or is available free to AmSpa Plus members, who can also register on the site.)
When you are the medical director of a medical aesthetic practice, you are responsible for all aspects of the medical side of the business, and that includes compliance. You not only need to be sure that you are properly delegating and supervising the procedures being performed at the practice, but also create protocols for the non-medical employees of the practice in order to make sure they remain compliant with the regulations that govern medical practices in your state.
As stated earlier, dermatologists who operate medical spas typically incorporate them into their existing practices. When this arrangement is properly carried out, a medical spa can create referrals to the dermatology side of the business. However, it is important to understand that creating referrals cannot be the primary reason to add a medical spa to the practice. A medical spa must be operated as a separate entity, since a medical spa is significantly different than a dermatology practice in form and function. A medical spa should be able to succeed on its own terms, regardless of what is going on with the dermatology practice.
This might be difficult to come to terms with. I’ve spoken with several core doctors who have had bad experiences with running medical spas, and they can hardly believe that the industry is as successful as it is. Invariably, they went wrong by viewing their medical spas as existing primarily to drive business to their main practices. This can’t be the primary reason you run a medical spa. Any referrals you receive from your medical spa should be viewed as a bonus.
Con: Hands Off
Serving as the medical director of a medical spa is more work than you might imagine, but it may not be the type of work you’re used to or prefer. An effective medical director needs to trust his or her staff to conduct most of the everyday treatments at a medical spa, and this may be difficult for a physician who is used to performing treatments and consultations with his or her patients. Unfortunately for dermatologists who enjoy this aspect of their work, it just doesn’t make sense to be hands-on with the high-volume medical spa side of your business when you could be doing more lucrative work at your dermatology practice. There are only so many hours in the day, after all.
This also speaks to the importance of maintaining a qualified, conscientious staff. You have to be able to trust the people who work under you, and that requires you to pay very close attention to who you hire and how they’re performing. At the end of the day, the medical aspects of the medical spa are the physician’s responsibility, regardless of whether or not he or she is on the premises.
Understand the Commitment
Owning a medical spa is a great, fun way for dermatologists to supplement their income, but do not underestimate the amount of work you will need to do to make it a success. Serving as a medical director is a major commitment, and it’s best to approach it with realistic expectations.