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Surgeon shares lessons learned from business mistakes

Article-Surgeon shares lessons learned from business mistakes

Los Angeles — Learning from mistakes moves us forward in life. For W. Gregory Chernoff, M.D., a series of business mistakes in the early years of his cosmetic surgery practice resulted in a million-dollar personal loss.

Dr. Chernoff says he spent too much on advertising and promotion without a solid business plan or budget and he negotiated leases without experience. These problems were exacerbated by his loose control over staff and expenditures — which led to overspending on supplies.

"Wishing the problems away instead of reformulating a plan also contributed," he says.

Dr. Chernoff not only recovered and learned from his mistakes; he helps others avoid similar blunders. He shared his experience at The Art of Business Building seminar here in January.

Increasing competition In an era in which clinicians outside the aesthetic industry embark on minimally invasive cosmetic surgeries, injectables, laser therapy and the like, cosmetic surgeons face strong competition to maintain patients and boost profits.

"For the most part, they have entered (the aesthetics industry) with a preconceived notion that it is similar to a slot machine. They think they will buy it or plug it in, and it will spit out a lot of money for them," says Dr. Chernoff, who has offices in Santa Rosa, Calif., and Indianapolis.

He said these outsiders, "do not appreciate the art of networking or the art of internal vs. external marketing. They do not understand the difference between public relations and marketing."

Getting down to business To be successful, he says cosmetic surgeons must understand the "nuances of the business side of developing an aesthetic practice." Practicing medicine is a business, even though Dr. Chernoff says some physicians think it is a taboo subject to discuss.

"Doctors are not supposed to talk about business. They are supposed to just take good care of people," he explains. "Yes, we are here to help, but this is retail medicine. The people in Nordstrom's are not there to help shoppers. They are there to help them buy."

Dr. Chernoff says the medicine-business combination is a difficult one to master.

"The majority of doctors are not good business people," he says. "Doctors do not use the same methodical logic in making business decisions as they do in medicine. It is really their biggest downfall."

He often sees emotions take over for logical decision-making in the area of staffing. Ineffective employees can stay on the payroll for too long because the cosmetic surgeon finds them likable or does not want to hurt their feelings by terminating them.

Need help?

Dr. Chernoff finds that an introspective self-evaluation is crucial to building upon one's strengths and getting help with one's weaknesses.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help. Many of us across the country are happy to help," he says. "My hesitation to get help was directly proportional to how long it took me to see how many zeros in debt were tallying up."

Why does Dr. Chernoff think cosmetic surgeons are reluctant to seek advice?

"They have not learned the importance of leaving egos on the coat hook before going into a scenario like business," he says.

"My life turned around the most when I finally accepted that I do what I do best in the exam room and the operating room. I needed to listen to people who knew better than I did about business, such as my accountant or my attorney," he recalls. "What a downward spiral (ego) can create — and how you can make an effective turnaround if you are willing to change."

Delegating responsibilities to others in the practice can be quite a challenge for surgeons who have not yet acknowledged a need for help. However, a surgeon cannot possibly run a successful, profitable practice if he or she does not let go of some duties.

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