The phrase ‘pro bono’ is derived from the Latin term ‘pro bono publico’, which means ‘for the public good’.1 The term often refers to legal work that is performed voluntarily and free of charge for the benefit of society, however it is also a common term known in medicine for the same reasons. This article will explain how I got into charitable pro-bono work in aesthetics for victims of violence and provide my tips and considerations before embarking on this journey.
There are various ways one can go about doing pro bono work in aesthetics. However, I find that working with a local charity, discussed later, is a great approach. Some clinics treat disfiguring skin concerns such birthmarks, moles and pigmentation,2 but the mainstay of my pro bono work involves scar revision.
From a psychological and sociological perspective, improving a disfiguring mark on someone’s face can significantly improve not only their aesthetic, but also their lives. Individuals within our society negatively judge and stereotype facial scars, which has a knock-on effect on aspects of people’s lives, such as employment and relationships.3 For successfully embarking on this journey, I think the main factor practitioners need to consider is implementing a strong process and strategy.
I would advise anyone looking to get into pro bono work to reach out to your local charities to see if you can offer your expertise or services in any way
Explore your motivations
Firstly, ask yourself, why are you doing this? I believe you should be doing it because you have a genuine desire to use your unique skill-set help other people and to make a difference in society. My motivation to deliver pro bono work to patients who have been victims of violence comes from a nursing background in mental health, dermatology and working with vulnerable groups. I love that I can use my skills to give back to those most in need.
Contact local charities and associations
I would advise anyone looking to get into pro bono work to reach out to your local charities to see if you can offer your expertise or services in any way. I have worked with a Scottish charity called Medics Against Violence for a long time. Its aims are to not only treat injuries and deal with the medical consequences of violence, but to also help to reduce the likelihood of violence in the community.3 Through this charity, as well as Scottish Criminal Justice and Strathclyde Police, my clinic has a referral system in place.
Someone who has been injured by violence will go through the NHS for treatment, and when they are discharged, they will likely have a support worker through the criminal justice system and will be connected with local charities.
However, sometimes they need a bit of extra assistance, such as scar revision, which isn’t available on the NHS, and that is when I will receive a referral from Medics Against Violence to see if I can help. I find this referral pathway extremely valuable and very important when doing pro bono work so that you are never the person to determine who gets access to treatment.
When working with your referral partners, ensure that you discuss and make what you can deliver, what you can’t, and that the pathway for referral is very clear to all parties. I recommend that you write a standard operating procedure so that there is a clear set of step-by-step instructions that you and your referral partner will follow to ensure that the patient journey is mapped out. Having this in writing means that all parties know what their role is, their expectations and that everything is open and transparent.
When working with your referral partners, ensure that you discuss and make what you can deliver, what you can’t, and that the pathway for referral is very clear to all parties
Get clinic partners involved
It’s a great idea to get your clinic suppliers and distributors on board. I work with HADerma, Sinclair Pharma, Kelo-Cote, Church Pharmacy and Beamwave Technologies who will often donate their products for free, while I will give my time for free so there is no actual cost to me or my business, apart from my time. To achieve something similar with your own distributors, I would recommend contacting them to see if they will support you. I think that it’s perhaps best to at first become established with your pro bono work before approaching partners later to seek support in order to really demonstrate that you are serious about it.
When I approached my suppliers, I provided them with evidence of the scar revision work I had done before and supplied mini case studies, which included before and after photographs, information on exactly how I got the results and the products used.
When you are having the initial conversations with your suppliers, I recommend discussing and agreeing upon the logistics of how you will get your stock for these treatments. Sometimes I will get stock in advance, but often I will buy the stock and have it in clinic and then claim the expenses back through the company if I use it for any pro bono case.
A lot of this is based on trust and I find that as long as you are communicating well with your suppliers they can be very generous and it can work well.
Know your limitations and work with others
Have a very clear definition of who you can help and who you can’t. As with any medical practice, you should work to your limits and not exceed this. The patients I treat have usually already gone through a great deal and do not deserve to be met with unrealistic expectations. There have been several times where a patient has come in and I have told them that the scar is outside my scope of practice or expertise. So, I will refer them to a surgeon, who I know also works with the same charity, as they will be able to help them more than I can – we work together for the best outcome of the patient. Saying that, another great way to get into pro bono work is to approach local specialists like maxillofacial surgeons and ask them if you can help them in any way.
Treat your pro bono patients just like any other; however, always bear in mind that these patients have likely been through a traumatic experience. You therefore need to be extra sensitive to their situation and remember that they are not your usual ‘well’ aesthetic patient who is presenting for elective aesthetic intervention. I also avoid asking the patient about their past or the situations behind how they received their scar so not to cause any upset. Often we get this background from our referral partner, or sometimes the patient is comfortable talking about it, but we don’t want to instigate this conversation.
I always get my pro bono patients in on a quieter day in the clinic, particularly if they are violence victims as they may be feeling quite vulnerable, so you don’t want them waiting in a busy clinic. I opt for a Tuesday morning as it’s usually a bit quieter for us. I also ensure that the staff that are working at the clinic that day are well-aware that a pro bono patient is coming in, and that they are educated on how to sensitively communicate with these patients. Much like when adding a new treatment to your portfolio, always check with your insurance provider that pro bono work can be covered by your policy
In Vietnam, one clinic markets their charitable activities on their website and even has an entire sub-clinic and dedicated page on their website devoted to pro bono work.2 I also know of many UK practitioners who advertise their pro bono work on social media.
Personally, I don’t do any marketing or social media around this because I don’t want to encourage patients to seek my help outside of referrals from my charity partners. The clinic in Vietnam seems to screen patients themselves,2 but I think it would be very difficult to have the time and resources to screen these people myself and help everyone who approaches me. I would personally find it very hard to decline a selfreferred patient who couldn’t self-fund, so I don’t put myself in that position. I think care should be taken if you do choose to do any marketing on your pro bono work and ensure you have a well-thought-out strategy in place.
Remember your motivations for offering treatment; I wouldn’t advise practitioners get into pro bono work purely for marketing purposes or to increase your image or profile. Personally I haven’t gone public with my pro bono work until now so that I could share my experiences with other clinicians who may be interested in giving back.
My experience with pro bono work in aesthetics has been truly rewarding. It’s a great feeling to know that you are giving back, contributing to society and having a direct impact on someone’s life. If you are thinking of giving your time and expertise for pro bono charitable work, ensure you have a clear strategy, work with relevant partners and know your limitations. Remember, the end goal is to improve the patient’s aesthetic outcome so that they can move on with their lives confidently.
- Pro Bono at LSE Law <http://www.lse.ac.uk/law/probono>
- SW1 Clinic, 2019. <https://sw1vietnam.com/en/story/pro-bono/>
- Changing Faces, Statistics. <https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/education/health/patient-needs/statistics>
- Medics Against Violence. <http://medicsagainstviolence.co.uk/>