What Does Certification Mean in a Medical Spa?

Posted By Kate Harper, Tuesday, October 2, 2018

By Alex Thiersch, JD, Founder and Director of the American Med Spa Association

Certifications are common in medical spas, but some of them mean more than others. In some cases, for instance, a certification doesn't necessarily even mean you can perform the treatment in your state. Understand the difference between Board Certification, training programs that offer certificates, and state licenses so you don't end up purchasing equipment you can't legally use or worse, on the wrong side of an investigation.

Board Certified

In many fields of medicine, board certification can inform patients of a doctor's specialization and help them choose which doctor is right for them. In the medical aesthetic and medical spa space, however, there are multiple types of certification to consider, and determining which are meaningful and which should be looked at with some trepidation is a dilemma for both consumers and medical spa operators.

"Board certification" is a state or nationally recognized certification by a board that has been created to keep certain standards in a particular profession. For example, in order for a plastic surgeon to achieve board certification, he or she must go to school, train for a certain amount of time under another surgeon, and take a board exam, among other requirements. There are numerous specialties in which a doctor can achieve board certification, including obstetrician/gynecologist, family practice, neurology, and general surgery.

These certifications are extremely precise, and they help inform consumers who are searching for a very specific type of doctor. If you need surgery, for instance, you are going to look for a board-certified surgeon, because this guarantees that the surgeon in question has met a governing body's standard, and it can be presumed that standard is reasonably high.

Certification Classes

However, in medical spas, you're much more likely to come across people who claim to be certified in areas such as laser use and injectables. This is a whole different world of certifications—these are not based on state or national standards, since those standards don't yet exist, generally speaking. (Some states—including Georgia, New York, and Texas—have enacted laser certification laws that provide for a certain level of training, but the focuses of these certifications is very narrow and typically are relegated to laser hair removal. See AmSpa's medical aesthetic legal summary to see if there are aesthetic certifications in your state.)

The "certified" laser technician is the most common of these types of professionals, but being certified in laser use typically means that a person passed a course administered by the manufacturer of a laser he or she is using. In most cases, this does not, in any way, mean that a state medical board or state licensing board recognizes that training as being substantial enough to warrant certification. Any private company can train someone and provide a certificate that states the person completed that training. In fact, many people who complete these courses declare themselves to be "certified," but this is not the same thing as being board-certified.

In the medical aesthetics industry, many of these certifications are available, but none should provide the public with the same level of confidence that a doctor's board certification does. It is up to the medical spa industry and the providers of the services to ensure that the public is not misled.

Additionally, these certification classes may offer some level of training in the procedure but generally do necessarily allow a practitioner to perform the treatment in their state with or without supervision or delegation of a doctor. Check with your state boards, the AmSpa legal summary, or an attorney familiar with aesthetics before offering a new procedure.

Truth in Advertising

Medical providers are bound to very specific requirements when it comes to advertising. If you say you are certified in something, you need to be able to prove that's true. If a laser tech is certified by a laser manufacturer rather than an actual medical board, this must be made clear in any public-facing material. And though this should go without saying, a certification to fire a laser in a particular state is very different than a license to practice medicine, so saying that anyone other than a doctor is "board certified" likely is a good way to get a practice investigated.

(Note: Physician assistants can be certified through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, but this also does not imply a focus on aesthetics. The NCCPA provides an online tool to check if someone with a PA-C has actually been certified by the organization.)

All practitioners need to be careful about how they represent themselves to the public, and they need to be somewhat wary when a laser company says it can certify someone for a particular procedure, because that does not necessarily mean that the state recognizes their ability to perform it. Ultimately, responsibility and accountability lies with the on-site doctor to determine if a person is able to perform a procedure, regardless of whether or not he or she has been certified by a manufacturer.

Attend an AmSpa Medical Spa & Aesthetic Boot Camp to learn what you can and can't do in a med spa, and to find ways to build an efficient and profitable medical spa practice.

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