Two EPs transitioned seamlessly into cosmetic surgery. Now they’re offering the golden key to others.
Around every curve of the circular office of Artemis Medical Group are whiffs of Hollywood. A full-service salon that, until recently, featured a former Playboy stylist. A boutique offering high-end hair and skin products. A spray-tan salon. A small photo studio for before-and-after shots. A curious passerby could have a complete makeover inside the stylish facility before she realized she was actually at a cosmetic surgery practice run by two emergency physicians.
The haircuts and tans are “cross-marketing”—services that draw in customers who might eventually become patients. “You might come in to get your hair done and be wearing shorts, and the stylist might see your veins and mention that you can get that taken care of here,” said Dr. Ernest Debourbon, one of the founders of Artemis.
Debourbon and his partner at Artemis, Dr. Eric Fete, had both directed hospitals in the Columbus area by their mid-thirties. But before they had spent a decade in the emergency room, both began to feel they had reached the top of their game.
“I had achieved everything I wanted in emergency medicine,” Debourbon said. Fete said he found that conferences on emergency medicine were “the same thing over and over.” Both began looking for a new challenge.
Debourbon noticed that doctors and nurses from a wide variety of disciplines, from dentistry to orthopedic medicine, were taking up cosmetic surgery. Looking for a new challenge, he started driving an hour and a half several times a week to a nearby clinic where he studied vein procedures under another doctor.
“I would work from about seven in the morning until one or two and then drive back for my shift in the emergency room,” Debourbon said. At one point, his mentor gave him a large book of the entire vascular system and told him to learn it. It took nearly a year for Debourbon to feel comfortable enough to try it on his own. “The procedures aren’t difficult, but as usual, it’s about the complications that can occur and if you can handle them when they happen.”
Fete followed a similar path out of emergency medicine, studying cosmetic procedures with a group of other doctors who helped physicians transition from other practices into cosmetics. His training required Fete to travel around the United States to different sites where the procedures are taught, but he quickly realized he had discovered the right career path.
“I slowly cut my emergency room shifts to the point I said ‘I don’t need to do this anymore,’” Fete said. “From a cerebral standpoint, [cosmetic surgery] is so much more rewarding. Everything is brand new, and I go to conferences because I want to. I want to be a better doctor and learn how to perfect a technique. It’s a new lease on life, or profession.”
In 2003, with a combined 14 years in emergency medicine, Debourbon, 43, and Fete, 38, started their own vein practice in Dublin, a town of about 40,000 just north of Columbus. They gradually added procedures to their portfolio, sometimes letting their patients’ requests direct their education.
“Once you open this up, patients start asking what else you can do,” Debourbon said. “Once you get into [the cosmetic surgery community], you know who’s who and you can call them up and ask, ‘Hey can you train me?’ or ‘Where’s a place to learn how to do breasts?’”
Debourbon and Fete crisscrossed the country racking up new procedures, from Botox injections to breast augmentation. Fortunately for them, they began just before the American Board of Cosmetic Surgeons began cracking down on physicians crossing over from other disciplines, making it more difficult to get licensing for doctors who did not choose cosmetic surgery during their residency. Debourbon and Fete were grandfathered in since they had already been performing cosmetic procedures.
Now, seven years after it opened, Artemis is the home of a handful of doctors and 18 employees. Named after the Greek goddess of hunting and virginity, it operates out of an expansive, modern facility in Dublin, decorated in warm earth tones and carefully branded to exude style and luxury. Television screens pipe information about cosmetic surgery into the waiting areas, where customers can recline on burnt-orange leather chairs and gaze around the room at black-and-white photography of perfect bodies.
But in the midst of the image-obsessed atmosphere and the slick marketing, the Artemis co-founders consider their work on a grander scale: they are advancing medicine and changing the way doctors learn cosmetic surgery. Their “natural” breast augmentation, for instance, involves taking excess fat from the patient’s body, mixing it with stem cells that will “regrow” the patient’s breast.
“I like to believe it’s the state of the art of medicine,” Debourbon said. “The other disciplines have been out there and have matured.” He said his work with stem cells, which play a role in several procedures Artemis offers, is a small part of the larger effort to use stem cells for transformative purposes like regrowing limbs. “We’re trying to improve the human condition,” he said.
Human condition aside, Debourbon and his practice are also making money. Lots of money. Fete described Artemis’ profits as “astounding,” and the next phase of their business is carefully prepared to explode their income. Artemis is becoming a training facility where doctors can learn multiple procedures in one place, a process that will help them start their own practices more quickly than ever.
And Artemis will be happy to help. For a 6.5 percent annual commission, newly minted cosmetic surgeons can buy their business plan, which outlines the process down to the layout of the office. It will help doctors new to the field get accredited in a discipline increasingly wary of outsiders, and predict their profits: for an investment of around $300,000, a new practitioner can expect to make at least $1 million in his first year.
“That’s being a slacker,” Debourbon said. “If you work hard, it’s probably several million. It’s a hell of a living.”