DALLAS — Learning to use a laser to reduce wrinkles is a huge shift in philosophy for Dr. Briana Spooner, a pediatrician.
"It takes a lot of money and a lot of time to become a physician," she said. "As a pediatrician, I'm not going out and making a ton of money, so I'd like to pay off my student loans before I die."
Dr. Spooner is taking classes to learn an additional trade. She is part of a growing trend of medical professionals moving outside their specialties and into the world of beauty.
Despite a bad economy, the number of medical spas has grown 80 percent in the past two years, according to the International Medical Spa Association.
This field — once dominated by plastic surgeons and dermatologists — is now expanding with family practice doctors, internal medicine specialists, and even dentists.
The reason? Money.
A doctor may earn $35 on a chest X-ray. A wrinkle-free forehead could yield $500.
A doctor's office earns about $20 for a flu test. A series of underarm hair removal treatments can net $800.
The problem is, while specific training is required to become a surgeon, radiologist, or any other medical specialty, Texas doesn't require doctors be certified in any specialty to perform aesthetic skin treatments.
Louis Silberman, who owns the National Laser Institute in Dallas, has a problem with that.
"In most states, let's say a doctor, nurse, aesthetician, laser tech, wants to open a business; they go out and buy a laser," he said. "The manufacturer, the sales rep, comes in for a couple hours, they train them how to use the devices, then say, 'go treat your clients.' We think that's not enough."
Doctors, nurses and other medical technicians spend a lot of time and money for in-depth training and classes at Silberman's facility; there are few like it.
The FDA, in fact, receives hundreds of reports annually about injuries from wrinkle-fillers and lasers, many at the hands of under-trained practitioners.
"So we're big proponents of making sure somebody's been in the market for a long, long time, and it's FDA-approved, and there's been like thousands and thousands of treatments done," Silberman said. "New and exciting is fun sometimes, but it's also risky."
Silberman admitted there's no real way to know if the person working on you is qualified to do skin rejuvenation, although many plastic surgeons and dermatologists have training in aesthetic treatments.
Experts recommend asking questions. Start by requesting credentials. Do you really want a liver expert giving you Botox injection? If so, ask how many procedures he or she has done.
And don't be afraid to walk away if the business seems more like a hobby than a calling.