The UCLA Facial Aesthetic Center is just across Le Conte Avenue from the university's main health care campus but aesthetically it's a more than a world away.
With decor in calming designer hues, walls hung with unique artwork and discrete examination rooms shielded by frosted glass doors, the specialty cosmetic surgery clinic at 924 Westwood Plaza could easily reside in Beverly Hills the epicenter of cosmetic surgery.
"When you step into their office it's like you're going into a spa or an oasis," said Julie, a longtime patient who didn't want her last name used. "When you go in for a cosmetic procedure you want a smaller, more intimate and elegant setting."
The center is a stone's throw from nearby UCLA Medical Plaza, where aesthetic center founder and director Dr. Jeffrey Rawnsley shares reconstructive surgery facilities with around a dozen other surgeons.
There, Rawnsley performs hardcore reconstructive surgery the kind where cancer survivors get their noses and jaws back. It's also the kind that doesn't mix well with patients interested in hair transplants or a neck lift.
The off-campus Westwood clinic, located in a private office building shared by a bank, professional offices and several other UCLA-affiliated departments, enables Rawnsley and one other UCLA plastic surgeon to grow a thriving private practice in a region long considered one of the leading centers of cosmetic surgery.
The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery doesn't provide regional breakdowns, but it's generally recognized that Southern California surgeons perform more procedures by region than anywhere else in the country in a big industry only getting bigger. (An estimated $12.4 billion in cosmetic procedures took place last year in the U.S., with facial work such as nose and eyelid surgeries among the most popular procedures.)
Rawnsley and his colleagues must compete with numerous "surgeons to the stars" who offer tony Westside suites with valet parking, secret back entrances and catered snacks. But while avoiding a bustling university hospital atmosphere, the Westwood clinic doesn't run away from its university affiliation, as evidenced by its nameplate.
Rawnsley calls it effective use of the "UCLA" brand, which can carry greater weight with his male patients than nice art in the exam room an opinion at least one patient seconded.
"I've been to those hair transplant mills and I didn't get the feeling I was being treated the way I wanted to be," said patient Bob Kelly, who regularly drives from Cerritos for Rawnsley's hair restoration treatments. "The doctor here spends the time to answer my questions, the anesthesia didn't leave me groggy and they even brought in pizza half way though the procedure."
While a good bedside manner is important in all medical practices, it's especially so in elective specialties such as aesthetic medicine. "Cosmetic surgery is more of a shop and take care of yourself experience than a medical experience," said Rawnsley, who jokingly refers to his Westwood clinic's decor as the "Restoration Hardware" look.
"We have great surgeons here in UCLA, but you have to be able compete on the customer service and environmental level or you're not going to be able to attract and retain those patients," added Rawnsley, who looked six years for the right off-campus address before finding this office recently.
Rawnsley, who also teaches UCLA medical students, said his referrals and retention rate have doubled since moving off campus part time two years ago. The facial aesthetic center also provides a rare training facility for university medical center residents and fellows who will face the same competitive challenges in their careers.
"Believe it or not, it's very hard to get good training in cosmetic surgery," said Rawnsley, "To offer a program that offers hands-on experience in both reconstructive and cosmetic procedures, I'm proud of that. But it's hard to do both in the same space."
Dr. Daniel Knott, who plans to return to Ohio's respected Cleveland Clinic when his fellowship is finished, also intends to become affiliated with a private clinic there. He's found the opportunity to work in a variety of clinical settings has made for a richer educational experience.
"It's a totally different clientele in the (Westwood) clinic, and that's not just a Los Angeles issue," said Knott, who also travels to Santa Barbara each week to work with a former university surgeon in private practice there. "You see this all over the United States. A lot of the people I worked with at the Cleveland Clinic also have an aesthetic clinic."
But as patient Julie notes, all the designer decor in the world doesn't mean much if the patient experience comes off like an episode of the "Nip/Tuck" television series.
"Beyond the window dressing, there's a low-key professionalism at Dr. Rawnsley's office because of who he is and the people he hires," she said. "They don't push, they don't brag about the celebrities they've done, like I've seen at some of these other Beverly Hills surgeon's offices that are trying to sell you a procedure."
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