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Setting up in cosmetic medicine

Cosmetic medicine can provide a lucrative new income stream but, says Dr Paul Charlson, it’s not to be undertaken lightly

Cosmetic medicine can provide a lucrative new income stream but, says Dr Paul Charlson, it's not to be undertaken lightly

Cosmetic medicine is of increasing interest to GPs looking for a way to earn extra income. I have been practising in this specialty for seven years and find the field interesting and complementary to my GPSI dermatology work. The range of treatments now available is huge and changing constantly. It is exciting, challenging yet daunting and certainly not something to be undertaken lightly.

Cosmetic medicine is not easy money

Anybody who thinks this aspect of medicine is an easy way to make money is sadly mistaken.

First, you are entering an area that is removed from the relatively non- commercial, cosy world of general practice. You will be competing with established practitioners who have existing client bases and some are part of multinational companies with pockets to match.

You have to understand about customer service, pricing and marketing. Advertising can be very expensive and any profits you make can easily be swallowed up by the wrong marketing materials.

Setting up a clinic

If you are a GP you have to decide whether you want this work to be part of your practice or be in separate premises as a separate organisation. The advantage of an in-house clinic is you already have staff and buildings. However, this may cause a number of problems.

What is the situation with your partners? Are you doing this as a practice or separately? If your clinic becomes successful will your partners begin to resent you?

If you share the work and profits the usual tensions will arise about who is doing what and for how much. If things go wrong or patients cannot get appointments for NHS work, will they complain?

My advice would be to set up a limited company and work from separate premises. This provides a clear demarcation from NHS practice and in the long run is far better.

Managing client expectations

People expect a real service and results for their money. They are far more likely to complain or take legal action if things are not as they want. Expectations do not necessarily match reality and making Mrs Scrote's lips look like Angelina Jolie's is not going to be possible. Mrs Scrote may think differently, despite what you tell her, and will be disappointed with the result. The key to success is to select clients carefully and manage their expectations.

Insurance

As the medicolegal risk is higher you will want to be insured correctly. The Medical Protection Society includes simple treatments such as botulinum toxin and dermal fillers in its basic GP insurance.

More complex procedures such as the use of lasers require higher rates of cover. Specialist insurers will also insure GPs on receipt of training certificates. On average you can expect to pay about £5,000 extra a year to insure yourself for more complex work.

Training and professional bodies

Doctors undertaking any procedure will be expected to be properly trained. Training is now quite easy to obtain but is often expensive and, in my experience, of variable quality.

The best plan is to attend a national conference to get an idea of the type of procedures you wish to undertake. Then find a course. In my view, one-to-one teaching is by far the best way of achieving high standards quickly. This is more difficult to find but well worth it.

I recommend joining the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors. This organisation provides advice and training, and is involved in setting national standards. Some dermatology and surgical skills training is also desirable.

Dr Paul Charlson is a GP and GPSI in East Yorkshire – he is medical director of Skinqure Clinic and runs bespoke training in aesthetic medicine for GPs

You are entering an area that is removed from the relatively non- commercial, cosy world of general practice. You will be competing with established practitioners who have existing client bases and some are part of multinational companies with pockets to match

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