Dr. Daniel Ward is a facial plastic surgeon who lectures around the world teaching other surgeons about the intricacies of face lift, rhinoplasty, hair transplant, facial reconstruction, and non-surgical facial cosmetic procedures. He began his journey in medicine planning to be a rural family practice doctor, but was intrigued by the face, which led him to choose facial plastic surgery. He completed training in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery and then pursued a fellowship in Facial Plastic Surgery.
He is double board certified in facial plastic surgery and was recognized by his peers as one of the top doctors in the United States, as note by Castle Connolly. He was named one of the Realself100, which recognizes the top 100 Realself doctors around the country. His caring approach and down-to-Earth attitude have allowed him to be recognized as one of the top doctors in patient satisfaction and he is consistently is rated in the top 1% of doctors in patient satisfaction. His overall philosophy aims for a natural, non-operated appearance for his patients.
He is also the founder of Form Med Spa, a medical spa with several locations and over 60 employees. The aim of Form Med Spa is to bring an element of professionalism and service to the industry to create the best possible outcomes and experience for the population they serve. The medical spas specialize in medical grade skin care, laser treatments, injectable treatments, massage, and facial therapies.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I have always been interested in science and pursued chemistry as a major before choosing to pursue medicine. In fact, I could not decide what I wanted to do and so spent two years earning a master’s degree in chemistry. This was a great experience, because it allowed me to learn how to write. Learning how to write is one of the most important things that I think we can learn, and I still enjoy the process of putting my thoughts on paper and the challenge of doing so effectively and in a way that the reader finds some enjoyment. The chemistry graduate school experience was not very useful in terms of preparation for medical school, but it was great for the time later in my career when I decided to start my own skin care line. The science of skin care is chemistry and medicine, so I feel that my background really helped allow that possibility to become a reality.
I elected to pursue medical school due to a combination of interest in medicine and the human body, but also because of some disillusionment with science as a career. I was frustrated by what I thought was a system that, on its surface, claims to reward merit, but that meritorious research was often rejected for publication or could not obtain funding due to silly bureaucratic issues. I was disgusted by the bureaucracy of the system and how it could not figure out a way to purely reward merit. I naively thought that medicine was above that sort of thing. How wrong I was! I have now learned that politics and organizational bureaucracy seems to be a part of life that we all need to learn to navigate.
In terms of my entrance to facial plastic surgery, I was inspired to move down the road from exposure I gained through working in a research lab, which was followed by clinical exposure, and then exposure in the operating room. It was my time in the operating room that really cemented my desire to pursue the face as my primary area of emphasis. The face is an amazing thing. It is who we are. When we look in the mirror, we expect to see our face looking back at us. When that image is disrupted, what we think of ourselves is disrupted.
There was a very specific experience that helped me decide to pursue facial plastic surgery. I was assisting a team of surgeons who was removing a large tumor from the base of the tongue of a patient. The only way to approach the tumor was through the face. This patient’s lip and mandible had to be split open to access the tumor, which made the person look non-human during the operation. I was shocked at the realization that I experienced of how the face is our identity and that without the facial features that we all recognize as uniquely our own, we lose our identity. I felt such extremes of emotion during that procedure. I initially felt sorrow for the patient during the operating room watching the tumor be removed. I felt a little disgusted by what we were doing to the patient in order to get to the tumor. We literally cut the face open, disturbing the parts of the face that were recognized as that individual’s identity. Those negative feelings of sorrow and disgust were replaced by elation as I saw the surgeons reconstruct the face and perform what appeared to me to be a miracle—putting the face back together, completely recognizable and with little to no deformity. I, of course, later learned that this was routine, but it was the experience that helped me know that this was what I wanted to do.
There are two routes in the United States to become board certified in facial plastic surgery. One is to do a plastic surgeon residency, which includes 3-5 year of general surgery and then 2-3 years of plastic surgery of the whole body and the other route is through otolaryngology—head and neck surgery, which is a total of 5 years spent in the face and neck area. Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery is a wonderful specialty that includes as one of its subspecialties, facial plastic surgery. In fact, the training for every resident in otolaryngology—head and neck surgery must include 25% dedicated time, cases, and study in facial plastic surgery. Both the plastic surgeons and otolaryngologist—head and neck surgeons advised me to pursue facial plastic surgery through otolaryngology—head and neck surgery if the face is what I really wanted to pursue.
I was able to be matched to do residency and then fellowship after residency at the University of Michigan, which was an incredible opportunity. The training there is literally, second to none. They were named the top residency in otolaryngology—head and neck surgery. While there, I had many opportunities to work closely with some amazing contributors to the field. Lawrence Marentette, who trained with Dr. Obwegeser, was my fellowship advisor and he was really instrumental to me. He is a wonderful man and surgeon. Shan Baker, who performed the first head and neck free flap and wrote the definitive textbooks on facial and nasal reconstruction, was also a huge influence. Charles Boyd, Carol Bradford, Steven Telian, Doug Chepeha, Ted Teknos, Glen Green were also big influences for me.
Once I finished my training, I started at the University of Utah as a full-time faculty member. I decided to leave, after getting promoted, I should add, to associate professor, to start my own practice and to be able to offer a more service-oriented option for my patients and free myself from the bureaucratic issues of a large organization. We started with about 10 people and how work with over 60 employees. We aim to provide the best patient experience in plastic surgery and in the medical spa industry.
How do you make money?
Our business brings in revenue from the services we provide and the retail items we sell. Our revenue stream includes payments for the work of the surgeons, such as payments for cosmetic surgeries and payments from insurance companies, payments for the services from our other service providers (nurse injectors, estheticians, etc), retail sales of products (e.g., skin care), and revenue from facility fees. We also have some real estate holdings that bring some revenue in for us.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We were quite fortunate in that I had a large portion of patients who wanted me to perform surgery on them and so this was a nice revenue stream that helped support things for us initially. We were profitable after 3-4 months. That would not have been the case if I would have not had the surgical revenue.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
We are still young and so I still wonder if things will work out! We have a lot of projects that we pursue, and we know that some will be winners, and some will not. There is always some doubt with ventures.
How did you get your first customer?
My first facial plastic surgery customer came from a referral from a satisfied patient.
The spas first customer also came from word of mouth marketing. There are a ton of medical spas out there, but there is a real hunger from the general population to see patients in a medical spa that is run, directed, and overseen by somebody with the proper training in esthetics. Having this background as a facial plastic surgeon helps make our patients more comfortable and we are able to offer them a more professional level of care. The experience that the patient receives coming to one of our spas is totally different than the one they get from nurse doing injections or treatments in an office that they have set up and is definitely better than a nurse or esthetician doing the procedures in a home office or a nail salon.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
As a business that focuses on aesthetics, we have spent a significant amount of our marketing resources on Instagram. Part of this focus involved working with numerous Instagram influencers to allow potential clients to see our results from our account and accounts that the already follow and trust. We have never paid for an influencer, however. We offer services in exchange for their services, but do not directly pay them for their services.
What is the toughest decision part of your job?
The hardest thing is trying to figure out how to navigate different personnel and how to help inspire them to work towards the company’s goals. I don’t mean to say that I don’t love people–I do! I love working with so many incredible staff and partners. However, we are all humans and that is a complicated thing. We each have our own competing interests, desires, and personal challenges that affect how we react and work in a given situation. I think it is especially trying for somebody, like me, who has a hard sciences background and who likes things clear cut and black and white. Exactness is impossible when dealing with people. Getting everybody on the same page to consistently work towards the best goals of the company is tough!
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Strong work ethic, attention to detail, focus, and being a big dreamer. I think that being a big dreamer and idea person is perhaps my biggest strength. I have a lot of ideas and even though only a fraction of them end up working out, I still think that this factor is my biggest strength.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
From a big picture standpoint, the most satisfying aspect of the business for me is thinking about the business, the jobs that it has created, and the experience that we create for our clients and patients. In some ways, I guess it is a realization that we have made a difference in this world—even if it is a small difference.
On a smaller level, I receive a lot of satisfaction from the personal growth that I have been able to experience. We do not learn much about business or management in medical school or residency. For me, the focus was always on learning the materials in medical school or how to do the surgery or take care of a patient in internship, residency, and fellowship. Learning how to run a business and work with co-workers and employees in a new way was a challenge. I still have a lot to learn but am grateful for all that I have learned up to this point.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I am most excited about growth. Now that we are not in startup mode where we are scraping by with as little as possible, I am enjoying turning our focus onto improving things more and improving our processes. There are many things that we were able to do with hard work and persistence, but we are now in a mode where we are streamlining processes and allowing things to work in a more organized and consistent fashion. It is a different kind of work, but seeing the operations and processes improve is exciting.
What business books have inspired you?
There are many books that I have found inspiring. The E-Myth is a great book that has helped form my thinking about business and how to successfully run it. Crucial Conversations, Sell or Be Sold, Dare to Lead, The Courage to Be Disliked, Start with Why, Never Split the Difference are all books that are in my library and we have listened to them more than once.
What is a recent financial decision you have made that’s helped with your business?
We decided a few months ago that we were at a point that we needed to expand our staff and have some extra help. We hired additional clinical staff that have made things run much more smoothly and our processes have improved, as a result. I have found the transition from a startup where we do everything ourselves to a more mature company where we need to hire additional staff and equipment to allow us to do our job to be a little difficult. Knowing when to make the investment is tough and even though our overhead, specifically, our payroll, has gone up a lot, I think that the investment will be worth it as we improve our processes and the experience, we provide our clients.
What is a decision that you have made that met some resistance?
Shoes. This is maybe a funny example, but we decided early on to make dress code, including shoes, a requirement for our employees. This was met with a lot of resistance, but it is a decision that has helped promote our image as a high-quality location. Shoes are just one example of the small touches that we try to take to create a better experience for our clients.