The Last Word: Completing Your Master’s in Aesthetics

By Dr MJ Rowland-Warmann / 25 Oct 2020

Dr MJ Rowland-Warmann asks, is a Master’s in Aesthetic Medicine worth it?

The aesthetics specialty is exploding in size and scope with more practitioners than ever before. Patients are seeking more comprehensive and complicated treatments with potentially higher risks. With more competition, it’s vital for clinicians to differentiate themselves while ensuring their practices are running safely and smoothly. So what’s the obvious way to achieve this? Some may say, a Master’s in Aesthetic Medicine.

It’s not uncommon for universities promise to ‘take your career to the next level’ and ‘significantly advance your clinical practice’.1 But your Master’s is a significant investment, financially and in terms of time. So, is it worth it?

The pros and cons of doing your MSc

Many practitioners want the same things. We want more and better patients, to be recognised for our hard work and, hopefully, one day be ‘known’ in the industry. We want a profitable practice that runs like a Swiss watch, and, most importantly, we want the confidence to treat patients safely and advance our scope of practice.

To become a master in any given field of medicine requires a deep understanding of the theoretical basics. Following this, you must pursue practical or vocational training followed by a lifetime of CPD, trial and error, hard graft and mentorship.

There’s no doubting the prestige that comes with obtaining a master’s degree. It will elevate your standing within professional circles and help get you the recognition you deserve. It will also likely help you to improve the level of care to your patients.

However, does it mean anything to our patients? Aesthetic medicine is progressing in complexity and patients are becoming more aware of the need to be treated by medical practitioners, perhaps because of the worrying number of accounts of botched procedures in the national press.2 Surely patients are going to be drawn to those letters? If they are deciding between two medical professionals, it might make a difference, but the hordes of non-medical practitioners doing a rip-roaring trade with not two GCSEs to rub together would suggest otherwise.

The other consideration is around practical learning. When we’re undertaking a Master’s in Aesthetic Medicine we’re starting at the beginning again and attaining the underlying theoretical skills, and these skills only. Be under no misconceptions; a master’s degree is an academic exercise. This means essays, scientific journals and research, and often very little practical teaching, certainly not focused on technical injecting skills. So, I believe that it remains to be seen how this can ‘significantly advance clinical practice’. If you’re at the start of your aesthetic medicine career, one could say there are much more effective routes to practical mastery including small-group practical courses and mentoring, rather than doing your Master’s straight away.

The real cost of university education

There is no getting away from the fact that aesthetic practitioners are small business owners. So it follows that any investment must be considered in terms of cost versus benefit.

The cost of a master’s degree is high. The final bill for the average master’s in aesthetic medicine is currently upwards of £16,000.3,4,5

This is a significant investment for most, and must be carefully balanced with the amount of additional revenue likely to be generated in practice. But let’s consider the real cost. What an economist might term the ‘opportunity’ cost.6 This is the cost associated with the time spent on this course versus time spent working on your business.

To achieve a decent grade, an averagely bright student would likely have to spend around two days a week on assignments for the 24-month period of study. In my practice, this equates to around £300,000 in lost revenue.

So, is it worth it?

When I am wrestling with the problems of growing my practice and developing a solid patient base I often ask myself whether it was all worth it.

I completed my MSc in Aesthetic Medicine from Queen Mary University of London in 2016 after working in aesthetics for around six years. It was a hard-won academic achievement and made me extremely proud. I wanted to develop my love for the subject because I love academic study and have a successful practice that generates enough profit. My knowledge was vastly expanded by doing my MSc, but from a practical point of view the exercise was futile, as I gained no technical injecting skills form the course. However, I was able to incorporate the knowledge into the daily care of my patients, which no doubt shaped me into a more comprehensive practitioner.

I do think that it may not be the right choice for clinicians starting out because often novice practitioners lack the scope of practice or patients to apply the background knowledge they would learn in an MSc. Moreover, if you think it will transform you from a beginner to an expert, in my experience, you should think again. Remember as small business owners we’re trying to improve our practice, serve our patients better and create a profitable business. You have to ask yourself the question: by studying for an MSc are we solving any of these problems? What do those postnominal letters really mean for your practice?

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