Our Press – Globe & Mail

Doctors, to your scalpels
Breast lift or eye tuck, there’s no shortage of MDs keen to sculpt the (costly) new you

The Globe and Mail, By Deirdre Kelly, January 11, 2002

Does this sound like a visit to the doctor?

Videotrons flashing the latest fashions from Paris. Public readings of a book teaching older women how to stealthily hunt down a younger guy. A spritz of hair spray to support a backcomb. And at the centre of it all a stage where an audience gathers for a firsthand view of a hair transplant or a needle full of botulism, the new antiwrinkle weapon.

The unveiling tonight at Toronto’s Convention Centre of the weekend-long New You cosmetic enhancement, anti-aging show, a kind of public carnival of self-improvement products and procedures that is the first of its kind in Canada, represents the Brave New World of commodified medical science. Doctors who have long resisted the lure of the spotlight, largely for fear of looking like publicists instead of serious physicians, are suddenly seizing the opportunity to get in on the action.

“It is the new reality,” Tom Bell, a prominent Toronto plastic surgeon, said. “Cosmetic and reconstructive surgery is the only area of entrepreneurial medicine in Canada, the only place in medicine where money changes hands, and so it is inevitable that doctors who are concerned about marketing, about the taint it might lend to the profession, are getting involved.”

Dr. Bell is one of 39 physicians participating in the assortment of 200 lectures, seminars and demonstrations in the trade show, which ends on Sunday.

Organizer Ann Kaplan says she expects up to 15,000 people to attend.

Members of the public who will pay $10 to learn first hand how to tell a blepharoplasty (eyelid lift) from a mastopexy (breast lift) can also walk the aisles looking for fun and excitement.

Try Booth 219, where Lexxus International will explain how orgasms work.

Booth 723 is where Yorkville Orthodontics is promising free samples.

Fashionistas, of course, will love the free wardrobe styling offered by the Association of Image Consultants International (Booth 125). There’s also a live demonstration of an eyebrow transplant.

Squeamish? Then stay clear of Robert Stubbs’ seminar on Complications in Cosmetic Surgery.

“The acceptance is growing,” observed Ms. Kaplan, chief executive officer of Medicard Finance Inc., which specializes in personal lending, including cosmetic-surgery credit cards, to consumers wanting elective surgery.

“People are no longer ashamed to have surgery to improve their looks. They accept it as a part of life and doctors realize that it’s the trend, and so there’s a definite change in attitude.”

Hinda Weksberg, who manages the North York practice of her dermatologist husband Fred Weksberg, says she has no problem with calling it an industry.

Since 1995, when the Ontario government implemented a 5-per-cent cutback on what medical procedures it will finance (podiatry, for instance, was delisted), physicians such as Dr. Weksberg have increasingly been looking for areas to bill outside the system.

Injectable substances such as collagen and Botox (the commercial name of a pure form of the potent botulism bacterium used to combat the signs of aging) are part of the new frontier of dermatological procedures, along with lasers used to resurface the face.

Cosmetic dermatology is a billion-dollar business that in North America has grown by 35 per cent over the past five years.

“Canadian dermatologists who do cosmetic procedures have the potential to become millionaires,” Ms. Weksberg said, “if they promote themselves aggressively.”

But Dr. Weksberg, whose favourite part of the practice is still acne and melanoma, says he can’t bring himself to call the people he treats “clients.”

“They’re still patients to me even if they are paying for some of these procedures on their own,” he said.

Dr. Weksberg’s not alone in his opinion.

“I don’t know how you can’t have an ambivalent attitude about it,” said Mitch Brown, a breast- augmentation specialist at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

“Medicine encompasses so many things; it’s research, it’s treatment, it’s addressing the needs of the community.”

But with the pursuit of perfection reaching critical mass, consumers must become better informed. Not everyone advertising themselves as a cosmetic-enhancement specialist is qualified. Victims of botched and fatal liposuctions have made headlines, as have tales of facelifts gone wrong to the point of partial paralysis.