Dr. Pina Panchal, MD, & Dr. Linette Rivera, MD
Bella Mia Medical Aesthetics and Laser Institute
By Jen Wead
Our January Empowered Woman column features two medical doctors, aestheticians, and entrepreneurs that are changing the way their clients view aging. Dr. Pina Panchal, MD and Dr. Linette Rivera, MD joined forces to open the type of business that they wanted to frequent themselves. Their partnership, and Bella Mia Medical Aesthetics and Laser Institute began three years ago in South Tampa, when as medical doctors who worked together, they knew they shared a common goal: to open their own practice. Together, they began their research and ended up attending a conference on aesthetics, falling in love with the field.
Joining forces meant that both women could continue to practice medicine while they built and grew their medical aesthetics practice, which also covers women’s health, weight loss and hormones. The result is a beautiful marriage of experience and care that is uncommon for this industry. Dr. Panchal is a Primary Care Physician and Dr. Rivera is an Endocrinologist, and while both maintain those practices, Bella Mia is never without one of them on duty. They also employ a full time Medical Aesthetician and the three women offer what they call a “concierge style practice.”
“It’s the one-on-one interaction we have with all of our patients,” elaborates Dr. Panchal. “For instance, if a patient is doing a weight loss program, they are never just doing it on their own. They have access to us 24/7. They have access to a number that reaches both of us after hours, during the day, on the weekends... so they never feel alone in the process.”
The doctors designed a practice that would be something that they would want as patients themselves, and it was of high importance to be fully available to the men and women that they treat.
“A lot of times aesthetics is scary,” said Dr. Panchal. “It could be something simple like a lip filler that patients do, and if you’re doing it for the first time, it can be scary. Even though you tell them in the office that they’re going to wake up with swelling, it’s going to look bruised, it’s going to look bad the next day, they forget it all because it’s new to them and they are nervous and excited. So, the next morning they wake up like, ‘oh my god,’ they have these big lips, you know,” she chuckles.
“Other facilities you are kind of on your own, or you try and call the front desk and they say they’ll give the message to the doctor or whomever, the injector. There’s no follow through. [With us] they can text us that night, send us a picture on a secured system and we can calm them down.”
She went on to describe how grateful a recent patient was over the Thanksgiving holiday when the doctors were available to answer her questions and calm her fears after a face peel. That same patient looks great now and sent Dr. Panchal a thank you outlining in great detail what it meant to her to have them available to answer her post procedure questions. The fact that Dr. Panchal was an actual MD went a long way to helping her feel confident that she was receiving the best care possible.
Had that patient been to a traditional facility, it would have been closed over the holidays and she would have dealt with her fears alone. Surprisingly, it is uncommon to have a resident medical doctor at an aesthetics facility, which intentionally sets their practice apart. Dr. Rivera explained, “Most of the time, [other facilities] have just a Medical Director, but they are never there. Here, we are always going to have a physician in-house where we are monitoring the lasers, [and] answering patients’ questions. We research a machine and the medical aspect of it before buying any new machine. We read studies. It’s not only a before and after reference, we have to make sure the machine works, we try it on ourselves, making sure it’s safe for the patients.”
Cosmetic procedures, both surgical and aesthetic, are becoming more and more popular. Social and traditional media, as well as franchises like The Real Housewives, are showing the world that there are procedures to slow or prevent aging and everyone wants to know more. Millennials, in particular, are taking preventative measures to slow the process and are benefitting from the education and knowledge that is available to them now, not to mention, most procedures are relatively affordable.
When asked whether they tend to see more of a millennial set, or older patients, Dr. Panchal said, “We really deal with two sets of clients. Our clientele spans both age groups. There are different things that you are dealing with for each. One is more of the ‘preventative,’ and the other is more of the ‘let’s be reactive. We didn’t do all of the preventative stuff, so we have to be reactive, and try to fix it.’” Having a procedure done was once a secret only the wealthy could afford, but it is becoming more acceptable, with med spas and clinics popping up everywhere.
Dr. Rivera interjects, “And, just the research, too! Before, I remember my mom telling me... I would go to the beach and slather on baby oil and now all this research is out and it’s not just wrinkles, but its cancer and that can be prevented by using sunblock every day. So all that research with the media has the younger population saying that they want to maintain it. We also have older clients that we help, too.”
“So, I think we just know more about aesthetics now and I think it’s easier for people to talk about it because of media and social media, making us more aware of it. I will be honest,” said, Dr. Panchal, “when I was [younger], I didn’t think about it really. I didn’t hear about it. It was no big deal. So, I think now that we are talking about it more and people are doing it more, it feels more acceptable. I think that part is just the way that we talk about aging.” Dr. Panchal passionately continues, “So when we talk about aging, or anti-aging, I feel like it always has this negative connotation, like its vain, or we just care about what we look like, you know? And, I think if we change the way we talk about aging, then people will perceive it differently.”
She continued, “If you talk about it like it’s more of a lifestyle, a wellness or like when you go to work out, it’s to stay fit and feel good. You’re looking at these things as maintenance, or as ways to help boost your confidence. It should be looked at like it’s in the wellness category instead of something that is vain, or something that people of a certain class do…”
The doctors say it is common for someone to come in for one thing and then realize that there is actually a solution to something else that is troubling them, that they didn’t know was even possible. A common example of that is in the female health category. They pride themselves on providing a safe haven for women to ask those embarrassing questions. It is common for women to experience incontinence, lack of libido, or sensation, but women are often uncomfortable talking about it. Most accept it as part of life and aging or being a mother, but it doesn’t have to be. They are women too, and with backgrounds in OB and Endocrinology, they want their clients to know that they’re relatable and they understand them on a very deep level.
“Vaginal Rejuvenation is a procedure that not only treats urinary incontinence, but you also treat the vaginal lining, sensation, lubrication, all of those things, without any hormones, and it’s all based on your own collagen, making new tissues, new veins, new nerves. We treat the inside and the outside. We have patients that are young that just want to feel better, and we have had patients that have had breast cancer that have those problems, and we have patients that have urinary incontinence,” explained Dr. Rivera.
The doctors say they have found a larger facility and are excited about moving, as they have quickly outgrown their current location. They look forward to continuing to learn everything they can about each new treatment that becomes available and providing their patients with even more services. They also plan to reach out to more men, too, and want them to feel comfortable and know that these services are not just for women.
The doctors are grateful for their partnership and acknowledge the challenge just like other women have of maintaining a work/life balance as entrepreneurs, with their other practices and families, but say that changing lives and reading how they have affected their patients in the reviews that have been written make it worth it.
Before I left them, I asked the doctors what their single, best advice for anti-aging practices at home would be. They both had the same answer: Retinol, morning and night and sunscreen. Both women agree that investing in a good Retinol cream gives the biggest results for keeping skin moisturized and regenerating.
Read about the services that Dr. Panchal and Dr. Rivera offer with Bella Mia Medical Aesthetics and Laser Institute on their website at bellamiamedical.com.