In our latest interview, we spoke to Dr Chua Cheng-Yu, founder of Veritas Medical Aesthetics to find out his story on building a plastic surgery practice and his thoughts on the aesthetics industry.
Share with us what Veritas Medical Aesthetics does.
We are a doctor-led clinic that helps women look better using medical prescriptions and technology. MOH guidelines bind us so we can’t make outlandish claims and promises like non-medical entities. But every procedure here is proven, backed by medical science and administered by a certified doctor. Some of the more mainstream treatments we provide include botox and thread lifts.
Where did you practice before starting Veritas Medical Aesthetics?
I’ve been a doctor for almost ten years now at a few different places – a public hospital and a few private clinics that I’d prefer not to name.
Why did you pick aesthetics/plastic surgery as your specialisation?
Aesthetics is a unique industry within the medical scene. Think about this: if you were going for heart surgery, and were offered the choice between a tried and tested method that was 50 years old, versus a new surgical technique that was invented last year, which will you pick? Chances are you’d choose the age-old technology. However, the reverse is true for aesthetics! Rather than being “tested and proven”, old methods are often seen as “outdated”! The patient mindset in this scene forces medical aesthetics and doctors within it to advance at breakneck speeds.
I spend much of my time reading and researching on the latest news in the medical scene, so this is probably the only industry that I wouldn’t get bored in!
Why did you choose to start your aesthetic business than working in a public or private healthcare institution?
During my days as an employee, I learned that being a good doctor often means you’re also a lousy businessman. I was disillusioned for a while as my work made me break my ethical code as a doctor. I felt I could be doing more for the patients. In the end, the only choice left was to start my practice where I have full control over the treatment protocols.
It might not be the most profitable approach, but I believe that doctors must always stick to the ethos of doing your best for the patient, even if it’s counterproductive for business. That’s where the name Veritas Medical comes from. It means “truth” in Latin.
What were the reactions of your loved ones when you told them that you were going to venture out on your own?
I wouldn’t say I had unwavering support from family and friends. It’s never easy venturing out. People told me how hard it is to start a clinic and it’s not worth it to give up the substantial salary doctors are paid as employees in the private practice. But there’s a lot more to being a doctor than pay alone.
What were the initial challenges you faced when starting up?
I’ve been in the scene for quite some time, and have trained many other doctors before. Hence, reputation wasn’t much of an issue. My past experiences being the primary doctor at other clinics also meant I knew enough about operations to set it up right first time. Reaching out to the public and getting them to understand our difference, however, was much more challenging. I knew I had something unique to show the world, but I didn’t know how to get them to notice.
After all, doctors are wired in a way that makes us pretty poor businesspeople and PR failures (I don’t even have an IG account yet!). I tried a few outreach agencies too, but all of them gave very disappointing results.
How did you overcome the challenges?
I would say I got lucky with getting the right team together. The support of old patients (part of the team too!) acting as my advertising mouthpieces and entrusting their friends and family members to my knowledge and hands. The support of my crew who believed in my vision and made sacrifices from their routine to help me tirelessly build this.
Last but not least, the support of a close advisor, without whom I definitely would not have handled the business aspects of running a clinic as smoothly! I am grateful and blessed.
How is the aesthetic industry doing in the past few years and where do you think it would be in the next five years?
The industry has been getting more and more saturated. There is an oversupply of doctors in Singapore now, and more people are getting lured into starting their aesthetic clinic. But I think the 2000-2015 heydays are long over now. New doctors will probably struggle to catch up to the established names. Much like what happened in the dental scene, where large clinics bought up small ones and formed groups, we will likely see a consolidation phase for aesthetics within 5-10 years.
Are you seeing more Singaporeans or foreigners? Why do you think so?
Singaporeans are still the main crowd, although I do get 10-15% foreigners. These aren’t all the wealthy foreigners too. I’ve seen domestic helpers and work permit holders here as well. Aesthetics is a very affordable industry with a mass market appeal.
However, I do hear of specific very high-end clinics that charge very high prices, targeting the affluent Chinese crowd. For the most part, though, aesthetics is affordable enough for the everyday person in Singapore.
What are the three most common treatments sought at Veritas Medical Aesthetics?
Botox and fillers are the bread and butter. Lasers are also up there as a good laser setup is exceptionally complex, and you can’t get it outside of a clinic. I probably overspent on my laser setup, having nine different lasers when most clinics bring no more than 2-3! I’m glad it worked out for my patients, and they’re enjoying the results.
What is your advice for people seeking aesthetic changes?
One of the biggest indicators that a procedure has gone well is when the face looks untouched. If it’s subtle enough to go unnoticed, it’s okay. Don’t try to change your features too much to look like someone else. Instead, try to look healthy, youthful and full of energy. That’s my approach towards aesthetics. I want patients to walk out feeling like their best self, instead of someone else.
Have you ever thought of giving up and going back to working in a health care institution? If no, why not and what kept you going?
I enjoy every single day of my work in medical aesthetics, even when I was only working as a paid employee in the private sector. Seeing happy faces every day has to be the best part of my work, and that joy multiplied when I started my clinic. Giving up never crossed my mind.
We understand that you are into fine arts, you play guitar, piano and saxophone leisurely, you are a photography enthusiast, and you regularly volunteer as a doctor to migrant workers. Not to mention, you also do research. How do you manage to squeeze out so much time for everything?
To be honest, the clinic has been keeping me very busy, so other aspects of my life are taking a back seat. As with everything, to excel in one area, sacrifices have to be made in another. I can only try to balance my life out as best I can.
Lastly, what’s your advice for medical practitioners who are thinking of starting their practice?
The most important advice I can give is that good doctors make poor businesspeople and vice-versa. Don’t lose the good heart you have as a doctor just because you’re running a business. Many doctors have this belief that they know everything better just because we graduated as the elite from the education system. That’s the furthest from the truth you can get in the real world. It’s important to find good help and assemble a team of various talents.