Editor's Note: This is the first article in a two-part series. Read more in Part II, on Dayan’s medical spa and the evolution of medical esthetics.
Education, art and passion collide in Steven Dayan, M.D., FACS’s practice. Based in Chicago, SDMD offers surgical and non-surgical esthetic treatments, but the heart of Dayan’s work lies in education and understanding the motivations of his patients.
Dayan founded True U Education, an esthetics education program for up-and-coming estheticians in a cosmetic medical environment, and he has written the book on the topic of beauty as a motivator, Subliminally Exposed, which hit the ninth spot on the New York Times’ best-seller list in 2014.
Skin Inc. sat down with Steven Dayan for an exclusive interview on his efforts to educate both estheticians and medical spa professionals.
Skin Inc (SI): What inspired you to specialize in plastic surgery?
Steven Dayan (SD): It's a long story—I was going to be a neurosurgeon for the longest period of time, then at the last minute, I decided to go into plastic surgery. It was my second choice, really ... But the more I looked into neurosurgery and the more I talked to people in the field, I realized that it wasn't a happy field and wasn't something I wanted to go into.
Plastic surgery was something I always loved—it was always creative. I worked in sculptural art for years doing terracotta clay sculpting. I love the creative ability I can exercise in esthetic medicine, so that became of interest to me. I like making people happy, which is a big part of esthetic medicine. I like that you can be entrepreneurial, that's also in esthetic medicine. So all those things kind of drew me to esthetic medicine and plastic surgery.
SI: Does your experience as a sculptor give you something others in your field do not have?
SD: Yes, and if you come to my office, you'll see that I have sculptures around my office. I think that it's very common for plastic surgeons to have an artistic facet or an artistic crave.
I took lessons during college, medical school and residency. I was taking some lessons and going in and out of studios, working on clay. It was a passion of mine, and at the time was not part of my education—it was something that I did for enjoyment. As that started to grow, I recognized that I'd love to make it part of my daily life. I wasn't planning on being a full-time artist, but I loved medicine. So I was able to combine two things that I loved: My passion for medicine and art in one field.
[Art is] definitely a good pre-requisite to being an esthetic physician; to be able to see in three dimensions is very advantageous. But I don't think that that would be my primary trait that helps me do well in esthetic medicine: It's my ability to understand the motivation behind patients desires to get esthetic treatment that really sets me apart.
"It's my ability to understand the motivation behind patients desires to get esthetic treatment that really sets me apart."
SI: Can you speak a little bit more about that?
SD: I've been teaching for the last six years, a course on the science of beauty and its impact on culture in America [called “The Science of Beauty” at DePaul University]. In that course, I explore the overlap between esthetic medicine, neuropsychology and evolution and biology … I think when you combine those fields of thought, you start to see somewhere in the middle that esthetic medicine is about making people more attractive, not making them more beautiful. And making someone attractive may or may not be related to actually being more beautiful.
"...esthetic medicine is about making people more attractive, not making them more beautiful. And making someone attractive may or may not be related to actually being more beautiful."
As plastic surgeons, we can make people more beautiful—it’s not unfounded for us to follow formulas in which we mathematically define what beauty is. However, that doesn't mean that someone actually feels beautiful. The concept of feeling beautiful is more important.
When people feel beautiful, they're more attractive because the single most important component to being attractive is confidence. People come into my office asking for confidence, not asking to be more beautiful. Understanding those motivations for what they're attempting to achieve helps me to satisfy my patients—that is the goal, and I believe what leads to success in esthetic medicine.
Once I made that recognition that my field and my craft and my task is to make people feel better about themselves, by improving mind and mood and not form and function, then my practice exploded.
"People come into my office asking for confidence, not asking to be more beautiful. Understanding those motivations for what they're attempting to achieve helps me to satisfy my patients."
SI: You helped to form True U, teach at DePaul, founded the Enhance Foundation and give lectures frequently. What drives your interest in educating the next generation of cosmetic surgeons and other professionals?
SD: I have a passion for education. I have been teaching since I was young and [I still teach at all levels]. I love asking someone to look at something from a different perspective. Influencing the way someone thinks, to ask questions, to reevaluate a position from a different perspective, or look at it through a different prism, to me, I think it's fascinating.
We don't do enough of that: We don't ask people to think. We ask them to repeat, but we don't ask them to think. I love asking people to think and teaching them how to think. And I get to do that at all different levels. Teaching an esthetician to think is very different than teaching a resident, and very different that teaching an undergraduate student. And we also go into the inner city schools and teach high school kids.
SI: Who do you hope to reach most through your work as an educator? Is there one education venture in the field that you are particularly involved in or proud of?
SD: Anyone who's interested. Anyone who's willing to listen. Unfortunately, we don't have much of that today; everyone seems to know what the answer to everything is without ever asking a question or listening. But for those who are interested, who give me the privileged to teach, I'm happy to.
You know, they're kind of my children. I love them all the same; it's hard for me to say which ones I love more for all different reasons. I'm very excited about what we do at True U, because True U is something that didn't really exist before: Taking estheticians and professionalizing them.
Many of these estheticians who come to me are really interested in learning more, and for many years there was no place for them to turn … It's now been 10 years and True U has grown to be something that's very formidable.
"Many of these estheticians who come to me are really interested in learning more, and for many years there was no place for them to turn."
SI: As a physician, how do your education pursuits affect your practice and patients?
SD: I think that whenever you have to teach something, you become an expert at it. So every time [you] have to sit down and create a lesson plan, and come up with a thought that [you] want to get across, you have to really think through it in your head. And I strongly encourage everyone to teach. At one time, I used to make it a requirement for all my employees to teach. I didn't care what they taught, whether it was Sunday school, nursery school or college. I think it's an advantage for everyone to teach.
SI: What opportunities in the field have you had with your work as an artist or educator that you would not have otherwise?
SD: I have the opportunity to teach minds around the world. I've been very fortunate in that I have been a keynote speaker on six continents—I haven't been invited to Antarctica yet … Every month I'm in a different country speaking, and it's really, really, nice, and I appreciate very much the opportunity and the privilege to share my ideas with colleagues and others who are interested in esthetic philosophy around the world. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that as an artist.