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Practitioner Spotlight: Dr Bibi Ghalaie

If you work in aesthetics, you’ll no doubt have heard of the fantastic Dr Bibi Ghalaie. Her career has been incredible to date, and only promises to get better and better. So I was happy when she took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about life as an aesthetic practitioner, and the most important thing she’s learnt since working in this industry.

Hi Dr Bibi! Thanks for joining me. I’m dying to know how you got into aesthetics

I was actually dead set on becoming an oncoplastic breast surgeon, and I worked for Mr Michael Burke who was a consultant breast & endocrine surgeon and the medical director at Northwick Park Hospital. I loved working with him and had been offered specialty training with him but, unfortunately, a new government system that came in around that time meant I was no longer allowed to choose where I trained. I had to compete with all the other doctors in my year and with all the more senior doctors who were already specialising, to obtain a speciality training “run through” that would last 6-8 years.

Due to the uncertainty at that time, I took the first training programme that was offered to me - General Practice - which was an excellent programme involving a diversity of specialities. I would be able to complete rotations in A&E, paediatrics, obstetrics & gynaecology, surgery and lots more. I decided to do the training with the idea that if I still wanted to do surgery after three years, I would go back and do it.

In the midst of all this, I decided to sit my postgraduate surgical exams and, to show I was good with my hands, I went on a Botox and dermal fillers course. A few months after the course, the course founder contacted me and asked if I’d like to work with them as a lecturer once I’d gained a bit more experience. So, I started lecturing with them within a year. I was only 24, and was suddenly lecturing all these clinicians who were much older than me, on a field that was very new and not as well respected as it is now. As a female medic who had been bullied during one of my surgical jobs, this academic role gave me a great deal of confidence. It was such an honour to teach there and it paved the way for what was to come. I hadn't realised just how much I liked to teach.

Several years later, I got together with Mr Dan Marsh of the Plastic Surgery Group and set up a training course in Aesthetic Medicine at the Royal College of General Practitioners, and it just exploded. I taught there for four years as the lead trainer and lead lecturer for basic level Botox and dermal fillers, and the course did so well that we expanded it to the Royal Society of Medicine. In the time I was there, I trained over 2,500 doctors and dentists here in the UK, and it was such a popular course that we had a six month waiting list! I am now a clinical lead and senior lecturer with Acquisition Aesthetics, a role that I am extremely proud of.

Wow! What an amazing experience. So, what led you to opening your own aesthetics business?

Teaching was such a great way to get into aesthetics. When you teach, you have to be an expert in that field, especially when you’re teaching at such prestigious sites, as the calibre of clinicians that come to places like that is second to none. You have to be at the top of your game because they will ask you the most complex of questions, which made me study even harder and rendered me very confident in what I was doing.

Next, I started working at an established, London-based clinic, where I stayed for the next four years. I had the opportunity there to treat lots of patients from different backgrounds, and I was frequently exposed to patients of oriental background, which was really interesting for me, as their anatomy is so different to caucasians, and the desired aesthetic is also very different. While I was working there, I decided to open my own clinic but, for me, confidence was always a bit of an issue. Opening your own clinic takes a lot of courage, confidence, experience, and it takes a leap of faith because the risk is all on you. No one is going to serve you with patients - you have to build up your patient database, which is a hard slog. If you don’t have people coming through the door, putting their trust in you, and patients recommending you, it is very difficult to succeed. Aesthetics is an incredibly competitive and somewhat saturated area of medical practice, particularly in central London. But I believe I have managed to do well so far, and all with a smile on my face!

What were some of the other challenges you faced when getting your business set up?

It took me ages to figure out how I was going to juggle working in A&E with owning my own business. I’ve always had this crisis of conscience that I can’t leave the NHS. I was trained by this system and I owe so much to it. How could I ever leave and betray the precious organisation that I hold so dear and that taught me all I know? Another thing I found difficult at first was the notion of taking payment for a medical service and having to place a price on my skills and expertise.

For about a year after setting up my clinic, I really didn’t have much of a life outside of work. It was a hard slog. I worked late, believe it or not until 11pm some nights, six days a week, relentlessly. On some days I’d finish an 8 hour shift in A&E at the hospital and then start a full list at the clinic an hour and a half later. Other challenges were the marketing strategy, trying to get my head around dealing with celebrity patients and bloggers, and how to manage their expectations, and finding the immense time and effort needed for my social media, which I like to do entirely myself.

What’s important to you as a practitioner?

I think it’s really important to listen to patients and what they want. I am proud that I have a very high retainment rate, and the reason for this is that my ultimate priority, after patient safety, is patient satisfaction. I really listen to my patients to determine their needs and their goals and to ensure we formulate a treatment plan that we can achieve together and that they will be happy with. If my patients are not truly satisfied, it genuinely upsets me and I always try my best to address their concerns and rectify any problems - and I think my patients feel that. They have my phone number, my Instagram details and they know I’m here for them if they need me.

I recently went to see a doctor, and while he was perfectly polite, he barely looked at me during the appointment but, rather, focused on his computer screen. I left that appointment feeling really dismissed, but then I thought, I bet I do this in A&E. The way you look at a patient, the way you treat them, your body language, your tone of voice,…these things all have an impact. So, sometimes, being on the receiving end really wakes you up and makes you see what’s important. Our appointments are rarely less than an hour; it’s not a rushed process. Everyone is given a very bespoke service and a lot of attention.

You definitely get that vibe! What’s your favourite aesthetic treatment to perform?

I love treating the under eye area, which is what I think I’m best known for. I’d say around 40-45% of my patients come in for that treatment. I’ve treated some very complex cases where patients have been to plastic surgeons and had been told they definitely needed a surgical blepharoplasty. But after a consultation with me, where we have discussed the risks and possible complications, I’ve treated them and they’ve been more than satisfied. It’s a difficult procedure to do. It’s high risk and requires significant dexterity as well as sound anatomical knowledge. Patients really do need to be cautious about whom they go to for this procedure. The product being used and the clinical approach is so important. If done in incompetent hands, the results can be disastrous, with visible lumps, gross bruising and even blindness ensuing. But when it goes well, it makes such a huge difference to how fresh and alert someone looks - especially in this era where everyone is wearing masks and it’s really the only part of the face we’re able to see. People often frown on the world of aesthetic medicine but, actually, non surgical cosmetic procedures can be life changing for the patient, as I have witnessed on so many occasions. That in itself is so satisfying for me and for my patients.

What treatments do you see getting more popular?

Skin boosters are becoming incredibly popular, especially after I’ve treated a few celebrity patients with them. They’re extremely effective for improving texture and quality of the skin. I am also getting a lot of requests for Profhilo, which is a great intermediary for people who want to boost their skin and look radiant, but who are not quite ready for dermal fillers yet. These treatments are also great for people who are already having dermal fillers and Botox and just want to maintain how they look. Skin boosters have a lot of advantages and are fairly non-invasive in the realm of treatments that I do. It’s a very simple treatment to have done, with little downtime.

Medical grade skincare is also huge at the moment. The pandemic has made us all look at our faces more and more, and the moment we reopened the clinic after the first lockdown, we were fully booked for six weeks. Every time I spoke to a patient about why they wanted to come in, they’d talk about how looking at themselves increasingly on screen and spending so much time indoors had made them more conscious than ever about their skin and their looks. Medical grade skincare has never been so popular! It’s effective and everyone wants to get on board now, which is great because optimising skin health is paramount!

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt since becoming an aesthetic practitioner?

For a long time, I didn’t have the confidence to open my own clinic, which had been a long-term dream of mine. I think my mother, who has always been my greatest cheerleader, and my husband, who is incredibly supportive, have been responsible for pushing me and making me see I could do it. What I’ve learnt is that if you really want something, if you put in the work, you’ll get the results. We have a Persian proverb that says, ‘drop by drop, an ocean will form’. This could not be more true. Continued effort, self education, a strong sense of focus and perseverance will, inevitably, yield results. There is no magic answer and it doesn't come easily - it’s taken me a long time to get here but it happened.

If you have a passion for something, hold your head up high and go for it. People will make remarks and might not take you seriously, but you have to believe in yourself. When I first met with one of the big organisations I was teaching at and said I want to launch a course on Botox and fillers, they mocked me. That was back in 2007 when aesthetics was frowned upon. Now, if you’re a good cosmetic doctor, you are respected and in demand. It’s become a recognised branch of medicine and is not only very sought after but reputable. Passion breeds success. If you have a genuine passion for your job and you work hard and are determined, you’ll do well.

Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Dr Bibi! It was great chatting with you.

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