Paving the Way for Nurses in Medical Aesthetics
Journey of Connie Brennan, MSN, RN, PHN, CANS, CPSN, CPC, ISPAN-F
These examples are intended to provide information and inspiration for your journey and are not a recommendation or endorsement.
Connie Brennan, MSN, RN, PHN, CANS, CPSN, CPC, ISPAN-F is a national aesthetic education director at a med spa in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, founder and president of a Medical Aesthetics consulting/training company, and an injectables trainer for several aesthetic manufacturing companies.
Her journey seems even more impressive when you consider that she grew up in poverty, with a big family who moved around frequently; she attended 15 different schools in just 12 years. What kept her grounded was an interest in music, art, painting, sewing, and especially, photography. “The arts really were my way of drowning out the noise of all the moves,” says Brennan, who went on to open a portrait studio at age 18 with backing from an entrepreneur. With portrait photography, she learned how to retouch faces on canvas by hand. “I love the art of light and shadows,” she says.
After a year or so, however, Brennan knew that photography wouldn’t pay the bills, so she considered other careers, looking to her mom, a nurse, and her dad, a pastor, as role models. “I thought, ‘I don't really want to be a nurse; I want to be a doctor,’” she recalls. “But I can't do that because we have no money for college, so I'll go to school to be a medical assistant instead.”
Brennan received a grant to attend technical college and after her graduation, at which she spoke, an office manager from a plastic surgery clinic approached her to ask if she’d like to work as a photographer for their clinic. She stayed for eight years, eventually getting a nursing degree and taking the initiative to begin training in injectables.
She still uses the skills she honed in the photography studio. "Weirdly enough, it transitions right into what I do every day with neurotoxins and fillers," Brennan says.
See how her experience and insights may help registered nurses learn how to transition to a career in Medical Aesthetics, and recommendations on ways to get started in the field.
Brennan invested in her own education and training.
Brennan decided to go to nursing school, taking classes on nights and weekends for five years while working full time at the clinic. She began assisting with fat transfers in the operating room and was fascinated by injections. Only bovine collagen was available at the time for that purpose; you had to do a skin test and wait 30 days to confirm compatibility before injecting. “I loved the idea of the injections,” Brennan says. The doctors were less enthusiastic, but Brennan was determined to learn more about them.
When resources weren’t readily available, Brennan got creative.
She used the school library to look up topics in plastic surgery and took courses at a community college on Perioperative Nursing after finishing nursing school. She then called a collagen company directly to see if they trained nurses in injectables. They agreed to send her a book to study, test her on the material, and then schedule a two-day hands-on training—something that was unheard of at the time. “My plastic surgeon wasn’t happy about me being trained,” Brennan says. She remembers him saying, “This is a surgeon’s job,” even though he didn’t like doing collagen injections. She left that clinic a year later to work for one that focused on facial plastic surgery.
When Brennan’s dream job didn’t exist, she created it.
After a stint at the facial plastic surgeon’s office, Brennan felt ready to go out on her own, which was an untraditional path at the time for a nurse. “I interviewed three surgeons and said, ‘I want to be your nurse injector—I want to have a practice within your practice. This is how I want the pay to work. I'll set my hours,’” she recalls. One doctor said yes. She joined that practice on her own terms and also began training other nurses. “We learned on our own from our experiences—I wanted to make sure to share those best practices with others,” Brennan says. She was one of the first practitioners in Minnesota offering neurotoxin treatments when they came onto the market for aesthetic use, after flying to Chicago to learn the techniques firsthand from a plastic surgeon.
Brennan uses her experience as a pioneer in the field to be a resource.
After working in a plastic surgery office since 1988, becoming a registered nurse in 1994, and then a nurse-injector in 1995 with “no formal guide to the non-surgical side of aesthetics,” Brennan learned as she went along, soaking up knowledge from every surgeon, nurse, aesthetician, office manager, and other professionals she encountered. Today, she’s able to give the advice she was never given. As founder and president of a private consulting company, she offers small trainings and general tips: books to read, aesthetic training companies to contact, and certifications to pursue. “It's challenging because there really isn't a university that teaches this stuff,” she says. “And there's really no set training along the way to get you from point A to B to C to D in Medical Aesthetics.”
Brennan is passionate about training because it elevates the entire industry.
After rising through the industry with very few aesthetic training options, Brennan is eager to spread the knowledge that she had to scramble to acquire. She believes it boosts the industry as a whole. “If I'm doing really good work on my block, but the next block is doing terrible work, it gives all of us a bad name,” Brennan explains. “So, the better we are cohesively as a group, the better our industry is as a whole, especially when it comes to patient safety.”
Brennan personally loves giving back. “You've heard that adage: ‘See one, do one, teach one,’” she says, “and I feel like once I saw something that I love, and if I can do it really well and teach someone else—and then they can teach someone else, I can leave that legacy.” It bothers Brennan to see competitiveness in the industry, when she believes all practitioners can learn from one another. “I may teach you something that you don't even like, but at least you've learned maybe a pearl or two, and all those pearls strung together make a more beautiful necklace,” she says. “If people are willing to share, we can get better as a cohesive group. That's why I love teaching.”
When it comes to training for Medical Aesthetics, Brennan has one golden rule.
Start with anatomy. “It’s the basis of everything we do,” she says, explaining, “Anybody can put a needle through the skin. I mean, you have employees who do it all day long at hospitals, depending on their licensure. But when you start thinking about the safety of the patient, and what's underneath the skin, there are ligaments, arteries, vessels, nerves, muscles, fat. And there are so many layers. If we don't understand the anatomy, we can't land that product properly for that patient and give them their desired outcome.” With cheeks, for example, Brennan considers the lymphatic system underneath and what might get disturbed if she injects too much product. “So, anatomy is a key component of what we do,” she says, “and if we don't know it, I think we shouldn't be injecting.”
For nurses starting out in Medical Aesthetics, Brennan offers these top tips:
- Master anatomy. In training her daughter, who is an RN, Brennan ordered styrofoam mannequin heads and, using colored dry erase markers, drew the anatomy of the face, including arteries, vessels, nerves, and deep fat pads. “It’s a great way to learn if you don’t have anyone teaching you how to inject,” she says.
- Hit the books. “There are wonderful guides by leaders in the industry,” according to Brennan. They’re pricey, but they’re an investment in your career.
- Check out groups. Get involved in the professional organizations that support aesthetic injectors; go to their meetings to learn and connect with others.
- Tap into social media. Instagram® and YouTube™ are helpful tools for listening and learning from practitioners who are credentialed.
- Research training companies. Some companies offer introductory training for new injectors trying to get into the industry. “They have great intro programs that aren't that expensive,” Brennan says. Just ask colleagues for feedback and check the Better Business Bureau first to ensure the companies have proper credentials.
- Ask about company training. If you’re hired by a physician or running your own practice, contact the companies you work with about intro trainings—they’ll come to you.
- Look into CME sponsorships. Various companies offer online programs that are not as expensive, including virtual trainings and, increasingly post-COVID-19, hands-on trainings.
If you’re a nursing student or registered nurse seeking a career in aesthetic nursing, Brennan offers these strategies to help get a leg up in the industry.
For starters, don’t quit your day job. Getting into this industry can take a while, as can building up your clientele—that is, unless you find a clinic that's willing to hire you full time and train you from the bottom up.
Otherwise, do your research, Brennan suggests. “Start learning anatomy, start watching videos, start taking classes, take CME courses,” she says. And put the skills to work immediately, even with a part-time role at a med spa, a dermatology office, a plastic surgery office or another office that does injectables—somewhere you can “start to get into the role, even if you're the office nurse and you're taking out stitches for a plastic surgeon and you can watch him inject, or watching nurse practitioners and doctors, or just being around so you can start learning the verbiage,” Brennan says. She herself started out working at the front desk, answering phones and making appointments. “You might have to humble yourself,” she adds, but it’s the best way to learn.
"Start learning anatomy, start watching videos, start taking classes, take CME courses," she says.
Why Brennan recommends that all nurses in aesthetics join professional societies.
Brennan is a member of eight professional societies, partly because of the benefits. “Being a member, you get access to a lot of information,” she explains. “For me, it's helpful to have a lot of touchstones where I can go on to the site and see what's happening there, including whether there’s anything that can help in my trainings or with my colleagues or peers.”
About Connie Brennan, MSN, RN, PHN, CANS, CPSN, CPC, ISPAN-F
Connie Brennan, MSN, RN, PHN, CANS, CPSN, CPC, ISPAN-F is the founder and owner of a Medical Aesthetics training company in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Part of the industry since 1988, Brennan is a national aesthetic education director responsible for creating and leading instruction of aesthetic curriculums.