My first year as a laser technician: What I learned

My first year as a laser technician in a cosmetic skin clinic was a bit of a wild one! Originally, I had started working at a prominent skin clinic in Western Canada as a part time receptionist, while working part time at Saje Natural Wellness, to save up money to move out on my own as I finished up my English degree and Public Relations certificate. I joke that I became a laser technician “by accident”, as I didn’t have an intention of becoming one or even staying in the same industry after I finished my degree.

However, less than a month into this new job, one of my coworkers announced that she was opening her own hair and wig salon, and would be drastically reducing her hours at the clinic. Because I was only part time at the time, and was nearly done my degree, the doctor and owner at that time asked if I wanted more hours and wanted to start training to be a laser technician. I honestly just said “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” because I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the clinic, how kind my coworkers there were, and knew that finding a job in January as an English B.A. graduate could be difficult. I figured that I would train as a laser technician and work enough hours to quit my lovely but exhausting retail gig, and keep searching for English-related jobs in the meanwhile.

I eventually quit searching as diligently for English-related jobs because I enjoyed the work I was doing, and most of the jobs relevant to my degree either strictly wanted Business majors, or paid less than what I was presently making at that time and had no benefits. I still keep my eye out for part-time English-related jobs because it is a passion of mine, but I am also happy with the path I chose for now. I kept working reception and laser, even as most of the chain of clinics sold to brand new, new-to-the-industry owner. I lasted about eight months with this new owner, until myself and nearly ever single staff member of not only our location, but the other locations by the same name, were laid off.

Though it was terrifying, disheartening, and stressful to be laid off (I hope to do a post in the future about what it is like to be laid off and how to prepare for a lay-off!), it ended up being a relief. I was laid off at the beginning of the lay-offs and didn’t have trouble collecting my severance. I was entirely free to seek employment elsewhere, and find a workplace whose ethics and protocol matched both mine and the industry’s standards.

A brand new clinic with only one other location out of province was opening up just around the block, and the timing of the lay off perfectly allowed for me to discover this clinic, interview with them, and train at their existing location before the clinic opened. I was so lucky to have been able to find a job relatively quickly! For the past five months I have been working for this new clinic and helped it to open, and I have learned and experienced a lot.

It’s been a wild year, but here is what I learned! I hope that what I’ve learned will help out other brand new laser technicians and medical aestheticians as they break their way into the industry.

  1. Be very aware of what your contract is saying before you sign it. Many contracts have strict conditions about contacting clients of the clinic if you are laid off, fired, or willingly choose to leave your current clinic to work elsewhere. It’s also just a good idea overall to know exactly what your expected duties are, when your benefits kick in, if you get commission and how and when you will receive it, your allotted number of vacation days, and other important policies. You can get in huge trouble for something as small as keeping notes you took at a work training seminar, if your contract specifies that those training notes cannot leave the clinic when you do. If you cannot afford to have someone who works in law look over it, at the bare minimum have a parent, sibling, spouse, and/or friend read it over, because they may notice things that you don’t notice and may understand some of the legal jargon that you don’t understand.
  2. Create a curated and professional social media presence for yourself. There are so many reasons to do this! One, it is an easily accessible place for you to create a portfolio of your knowledge and work, including before and afters, product information, tutorials, and career milestones. Two, clients/patients appreciate somewhere where they can access information about treatments and products, and it can prompt them to ask questions and book in. Three, it enables past clients/patients a way to find you if you end up working at a different location, for whatever reason that may be, as most clinics will pursue legal action if you are directly and actively contacting past clients once you no longer work there. Four, if you are on commission or only are paid for hours that you are booked with appointments, it can be a lifesaver. Some clinics advertise really well for their staff and clinic overall, some don’t advertise at all. Some clinics do advertise, but may not advertise you and your services specifically. This is a free means of bringing in foot traffic to ensure you get paid, regardless of what your employer is doing for marketing and advertising. And finally, it’s a really great way to network. I’ve met so many incredible and intelligent people in this industry just through Instagram alone, and I’ve learned a lot from their feeds. They inspire me to do things differently in my own social media and customer service, and alert me of incoming trends, new product launches, and the like.
  3. Consent forms are IMPORTANT. Consent forms are important not only because they make the client/patient aware of the risks and protocol of the treatment they are receiving, but they cover your butt legally. The client care coordinator I’ve had the privilege of working with for the past year or so has also created really thorough pre and post care sheets for treatments, so that clients/patients know exactly what they do to get the safest and most noticeable results. I like to briefly outline the risks of the treatment and what it entails first in the consultation with my clients/patients, give them a copy of the consent and pre/post care to take home with them to review, thoroughly go over the consent with them again immediately prior to treatment, get them to sign, initial, and date the consent form, and then go over post care immediately after treatment before they leave. Repetition aids memory, and I’ve found people would rather be told repeatedly and have a thorough understanding of what treatment will entail, than be told once and potentially forget what they were told. It gives patients more security and will save you from fewer complaints that the patient “didn’t know they were supposed to do such and such” or that they “didn’t know they would look like such and such post treatment”. As well, if you do post before and afters of work to Instagram, it can be a good idea to make sure that your patient fills out a brief photo release consent form, even if they give verbal consent to use their photos online. This way, the patient knows exactly how and where their photo will be used (e.g. will their identity be kept anonymous with blocked out eyes, which platforms their photo will be used on, etc.) and you have written proof that you did get their consent to post their photos. It covers your butt legally, and communicates to the client specifically how their photo will be used.
  4. Documentation is IMPORTANT. Whether your clinic or spa does paper charting or digital charting, I think it is really important to do very thorough charting whenever possible. I make note of not only the settings I used for the treatment, but what was discussed beforehand, what preferences or allergies the client may have, client reactions to treatment, the status of their skin, etc. I also like to make a few personal notes if the client and I talked about something in particular, so that I avoid asking them the same questions over and over each time I meet with them.  In Canada as well many people go on hot vacations over the winter, and come back with a tan. If a client has mentioned they will be going away somewhere warm I make note of this as well, as I can’t treat them if they have an active tan. For myself it is important to be thorough yet not biased and professional in these notes, as a client can request to have their chart given to them at any time. As well, documentation comes in handy if there is ever (God forbid!) a client complaint or treatment complication that comes up.
  5. Always seek out training and professional development opportunities. Medical aesthetics is a quickly evolving industry, and it is important to stay on top of not only aesthetics trends but the business side of things as well. Seek out training on new treatments and add each course or day-training to your linked-in immediately afterwards, keep copies of your certificates for yourself at home, and also display them in clinic or have them available in clinic if clients wish to view them. Even if the certificate is just for a day long laser training seminar, it still is reassuring for clients to see that you do have the training to you claim to have. Keep your resume and LinkedIn diverse by attending other seminars as well! I attended a free Human Rights in the Workplace conference the other day put on by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, and found it to be really interesting. Though it doesn’t pertain specifically to my position now, it is still handy information to know if I am ever in a management or human resources position within my present company, or if I change professions due to injury or interest.
  6. Seek out employers who are medical professionals. You will immediately have a safer laser practice if you are working with doctors and registered nurses, or dermatologists and plastics specialists. If you can, find medical professionals who are willing to train and mentor you, and who you can easily approach if you have questions regarding how clients’ health conditions or medications will interact with treatment, machine setting options, and skin conditions overall. Working with medical professionals rather than out of a spa or salon in which there are no medically trained individuals present will immediately elevate your practice and give you more support with what you do. Always look into their credentials and training, and feel free to ask them of their credentials, training, and areas of specialty during the interview process.
  7. Err on the side of caution. It is better to turn someone away and tell them you’ll have to consult with your medical director first, than to go ahead with a treatment you have a bad gut feeling about and end up scarring or blistering someone. Always start with your settings low, triple check your settings, and wait to see how the skin reacts. Always check in with your client and see how they are doing, and double check that safety glasses are worn at all times when lasering. Thoroughly sanitize your treatment room before and after each treatment, and do everything in your power to ensure a sanitary and safe treatment for both yourself and your client. I’ve been told by a number of technicians, doctors, and trainers, that you SHOULD be a little afraid–it is a laser, after all! If you lose that fear and respect for the intensity of the treatments you are carrying out, that enables reckless behaviour and potentially dangerous outcomes.

Though I am now only a year and a quarter into being a laser technician, I have learned so much, but still acknowledge that I have so much more to learn. I’m excited to see what this next year will bring!

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