Cosmetic surgeon and CEO, Dr. Alina Sholar, owns Skin Science Soul by Dr. Sholar, her cosmetic surgery and medical aesthetic practice, as well as being the President and CEO of Serenity Medical Centers in Austin and San Antonio, and Sage Practice Solutions- a medical practice consulting firm in Austin, TX. Dr. Sholar is blazing the trail in the female-led healthcare business, but also keeps an eye out for her community.
Thanks to Dr. Sholar, Skin Science Soul, Sage Practice Solutions, and Serenity Medical Centers have a global service initiative as well as locally in the Austin community. Skin Science Soul purposefully supports woman-owned businesses and donates to causes that benefit women and children and the communities they live in. For example, she held “Beauty Brunch” events, where she used profits to purchase a school bus for a community church to bring women and children in need to their doctor’s appointments, to attend church and take advantage of church resources, and to be able to come together and connect at community functions. Dr. Sholar also mentors young female physicians and non-physician entrepreneurs. In the medical field, only 35% of physicians are women, so it already starts out as a lonely group. By the time they finish residency, only 19% of surgeons are female. As far as cosmetic surgeons, just 2% are women. And to narrow it down even further, an estimated measly .025% are also independent entrepreneurs running their own businesses full of regulation and commitment above and beyond any ordinary business environment. So, she fully understands how difficult it can be. Some of the issues challenging women in leadership positions in medicine are the same as those in the non-medical business world such as pay disparity, sexual harassment, gender inequality and perception from colleagues, the public, and patients alike. Dr. Sholar herself has been the target of more instances of these types of issues that she cared to admit. It is difficult for women in any business to navigate without mentorship and support, so Dr. Sholar has dedicated herself to be available for them. They together even tackle topics like body shaming, imposter syndrome, and other issues that are bothersome for many female leaders and can hold them back. She has female college students and medical students shadow her in the operating room, in the business office, and in executive meetings, guiding them to make solid decisions for their careers in and outside of medicine.
Dr. Sholar also provides pro bono business consulting for women entrepreneurs in need. On the global scale, Dr. Sholar encouraged and coached a young woman- a single mother of two in Chennai, India- who was financially and physically oppressed by her employers, to start her own medical billing business. Through close counsel of Dr. Sholar, she now has been in business for more than one year and has gained financial independence for herself, but she also now employs 3 other women whose families are 100% sustained by her business as well- a beautiful example of the ripple effect we have on women.
Tell us a little about your industry and why you chose to be both a cosmetic surgeon and an entrepreneur?
When I became a cosmetic surgeon, I loved making my patients look and feel their best, but I felt a little disconnected with the beutiful and superficial image that cosmetic surgery had in the media. I wanted to elevate the image and the practice of aesthetic medicine and cosmetic surgery to validate the heart and soul of why patients seek to change cosmetic issues they may have. I really had the vision of providing not just cosmetic surgery for my patients, but a complete support system where they could feel empowered to be their best. I wanted to operate a totally different type of medical practice business philosophically and literally. After 20 years in surgical practice, I realized that women need a better way to beauty- smarter skincare with scientific substance- but it’s just as much about her soul. I wanted to encourage women to reflect their beauty and strength within to the outside, and in turn, feel their most confident, beautiful, and strong in their 30’s, 40’s, and beyond. I wanted to give women Beauty With Substance much more than any regular “medspa” ever could, thus Skin Science Soul was born. Skin Science Soul Medical Aesthetics is where I have brought together all my surgical knowledge, aesthetic artist’s eye, and clinical wisdom as a cosmetic surgeon with my life’s mission to empower women to feel confident and beautiful both inside and out. However, not only have I been a physician, but my entrepreneurial experience of the last 11 years brings more to the table. I now own multiple locations of Serenity Medical Centers, a Physical Medicine and PT clinic, as well as Sage Practice Solutions, a medical practice consultation company. Through these ventures, I have been able to serve the local community as well as service on a global scale. For example, I have coached a young woman- a single mother of two in Chennai, India- who was financially and physically oppressed by her employers, to start her own medical billing business. With close counsel, she now has been in business for more than one year and has gained financial independence for herself, but she also now employs 3 other women whose families are 100% sustained by her business as well- a beautiful example of the ripple effect we have on women.I have also been blessed to mentor young female physicians and non-physician entrepreneurs. In the medical field, only 35% of physicians are women, so it already starts out as a lonely group. By the time they finish residency, only 19% of surgeons are female. As far as cosmetic surgeons, just 2% are women. And to narrow it down even further, an estimated measly .025% are also independent entrepreneurs running their own businesses full of regulation and commitment above and beyond any ordinary business environment. So, I get how difficult it can be. Some of the issues challenging women in leadership positions in medicine are the same as those in the non-medical business world such as pay disparity, sexual harassment, gender inequality and perception from colleagues, the public, and patients alike. It is difficult for women in any business to navigate without mentorship and support, so I have dedicated herself to be available for them.
What surprised you the most when you started your career, what lessons did you learn?
The surgery profession has always been a man’s world, but in my first years after med school, I was truly surprised to find the gender bias that existed both inside the profession and outside in the community. Sometimes it was overt in the form of, “Who do you think you are being a surgeon?”, but often it was more subtle in the “I didn’t know women could be surgeons.” kind of statement that would be made. In any case, you can’t let those types of beliefs seep into your psyche. I think that applies to entrepreneurship as well. The lesson is to stay grounded, listen to your inner self, and always keep your vision out in front of you.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry?
Figure out your why and cultivate your vision. These will be your guiding light. I am very clear and specific on WHY my vision is what it is, and what the business’ overarching purpose in the world is meant to be. And don’t keep your vision to yourself either. Share it with your employees, which ensures that all are aligned with the vision, the company’s purpose, and your ultimate goals.
If you could change anything about your industry what would it be and why?
The business of aesthetic medicine unfortunately has been hijacked by imposters. The anti-aging market is positioned to reach $271 billion by 2024. It can be lucrative, so naturally it can attract bad players. The practice of cosmetic medicine, which was once a domain reserved solely for dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons, is now being practiced by other specialists, but also by non-medical cosmetologists and others without proper training or supervision. In a 2014 survey, it was reported that up to 22% of family physicians are now providing some form of cosmetic and aesthetic medicine in their practices- a specialty in which they receive zero training. Despite a medspa’s lucrative prospects, investing, owning, or operating one still means taking heed of certain regulations. Unfortunately, many states offer little guidance on these specifics. Generally, the two major regulatory considerations are the corporate practice of medicine, and proper supervision over those providing medspa services. Unfortunately for unsuspecting patients, it is far too common for a non-physician to open up a medspa and start injecting Botox- a prescription medication- with no education to credential them. It is scary! Anti-aging therapy and Aesthetic Medicine is a form of medical practice, and as with any form of medicine, it is imperative that governing bodies place strict standards and enforcement of competency, training, and technical prerequisites prior to allowing practitioners to administer these therapies on their own accord. These steps will certainly be necessary in the coming years, as there is no doubt that public demand will continue to fuel this phenomenon. However, maintaining close oversight and a strict emphasis on evidence-based medicine, is the only way to ensure the safe, sustainable, and patient-centered growth of this growing industry.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
I don’t maintain a 50-50 balance at all. I really love my work, so it naturally consumes a lot of my time. However, it also fulfills my creative and intellectual needs, so it is balanced for me. The one thing I am conscientious of is to be sure to leave the office at 5pm most every day. I do work on some lighter-duty things at home, but the more intense tasks I wrap up by 5pm or I leave til the following day. This keeps my workaholic tendencies in check!
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
In the first year after my cosmetic surgery residency, I made the mistake of partnering with someone who I didn’t know very well. I got caught up in the idea of “making it big” and didn’t take the time to learn who he was, what his values were (or lack thereof, in this case), and what his ulterior motives may be. Because our ethics and core values were at odds, so much time and attention was taken away from my practice focus and business goals. Unfortunately, his way of doing life was very different from mine. I finally had to make the decision that I had to remove myself from the partnership, and the resulting avalanche that followed was a terrible disaster. He went on an all-out crusade to damage my reputation and to harm me professionally. Despite all the pain that followed, it was still the right decision, and it ultimately pushed me into another passion- to create my own business and be my own boss. If I hadn’t had to jump, I wouldn’t have landed into such a fulfilling career as both a surgeon and entrepreneur.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
My Great Great Aunt Gena was always someone I really could identify with. She was born in 1900 in rural Texas, knew how to shoot a gun and ride a horse, but was also one of the most creative, spicy, and prolific entrepreneurs I have ever known. She taught herself to tailor high-fashion clothing while working for the original Neiman Marcus store, then founded Gena Cosmetics, which became a predecessor to other leading companies in the cosmetics and beauty industry. In her mid-90’s she was even featured on talk-shows as the “Pistol-Packin’ Granny” after she held a burglar in place at gunpoint when he broke into the residence of a condo she owned. You can’t beat that!
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
Trust your gut and listen to your intuitive voice.