Our Story

Through the years, La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre & Medical Spa has gained national and international recognition both as a leading cosmetic surgery center and for our innovative approach to patient education and informed consent.

It wasn’t so long ago that specialized cosmetic surgery centers and better patient communication materials were simply a concept in the mind of our founder, R. Merrel Olesen, MD—here’s the story.

A New Idea: The Cosmetic Surgery Center

La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre & Medical Spa’s team in front of our original location

Today, La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre & Medical Spa (LJC) is highly-respected medical practice in San Diego, California. Our education and informed consent materials have been disseminated and translated into five languages, while our patient care and communication systems are used by more than 1200 plastic surgeons across the globe.

But thirty years ago, a center for cosmetic surgery was a rather unusual idea. Most people thought cosmetic surgery was for the “rich and famous.” It was far from mainstream—to say the least.

During this time our founder, Dr. Olesen, was Head of the Division of Plastic Surgery at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, CA. It was in this traditional medical setting that Dr. Olesen realized his cosmetic surgery patients had very different needs than the typical medical patient. Unlike medical patients who were driven by disease or trauma, his cosmetic patients were driven by emotional concerns as well as physical complaints.

Dr. Olesen wanted things for his patients that were not possible in a large multi-specialty setting. He believed that the best care for cosmetic surgery patients involved a specialized and highly skilled team of professionals—including registered nurses, well-trained administrative staff, and medical photographers.

The reception area at our original location, shown here in 1988

As he thought about creating a practice focused solely on cosmetic surgery, Dr. Olesen knew he would need more staff and wanted to attract the best and brightest minds in the medical field. He planned to provide a higher degree of privacy than was possible in a large multi-specialty clinic. He also envisioned a comfortable, private and home-like setting—as opposed to the hospital atmosphere that was typical in those days. Of course, a hospital’s level of safety in the operating room would still be required.

Dr. Olesen’s Unique Idea of a “Cosmetic Surgery Center” Becomes a Reality

Dr. Olesen’s dream of a specialized cosmetic surgery center finally became reality in 1988 when LJC opened its doors on Prospect Street in La Jolla. Patients loved the beautiful ambiance and responded positively to our unique team approach. Patients were equally impressed with our Medicare-certified operating room and use of board certified MD anesthesiologists—which we insisted upon long before operating suite certification was required under law.

Dr. Olesen found a turn of the century sign that embodied his beliefs, and it still hangs in the practice today as a reminder of our values:


Involving Our Patients for True Success

With patient care, safety, and a comfortable environment in place, Dr. Olesen and his wife Marie (a healthcare administrator) made another decision that was unusual at the time. They decided to survey their patients and ask them how to make LJC even better than before.

Back then, this was such a rare concept that Marie was unable to find patient satisfaction surveys to give out at the practice! So she adapted hotel surveys and created her own versions of these surveys are still in use twenty years later.

Surprising Responses in LJC Patient Satisfaction Surveys

A patient entering at our original location

Early responses to our patient surveys showed that while LJC patients were very happy with their surgical outcomes, they wanted more communication and education. Back then, it was expected that surgeons made all the decisions, but it turned out patients wanted something else. One patient expressed her desire to become a “partner” in the cosmetic surgery process. Another patient said she “felt like she was in a tunnel” because she didn’t know what to expect with the evolving process of having—and recovering from—cosmetic surgery.

These were pre-Internet days when patients had very little access to medical information should their doctor not explicitly provide it. So, based on the answers obtained in their surveys, Dr. Olesen (assisted by Lori H. Saltz, M.D.) spent the next two years writing comprehensive informed consent and medical education materials to meet the unanswered needs of their patients. Marie also added educational materials to help patients prepare for surgery and understand recovery. She gathered all the materials which patients received and made them more coherent and cohesive.

Upon completion of the project, LJC began giving patients our personalized pre-operative booklets (which some jokingly referred to as their surgery “bible”) and patient satisfaction soared.

Meanwhile, Marie continued on her quest in developing proactive patient care and communication to further LJC client satisfaction. She began a process of listening to patients that continues to this day.

LJC client loyalty and advocacy doubled as patients experienced our higher levels of communication and education. Word about the “books” also spread rapidly among patients—and soon to other local surgeons.

Through Technology, LJC Delivers Medical Information to Patients Across the Country and Beyond

While our patients were undoubtedly thrilled with our steps to provide better information, the Olesens, rather than keeping an advantage for themselves, wanted to help more people. They were receiving requests from other surgeons that wanted to provide similar materials to their patients.

Accordingly, they decided to create a system so other practices could apply LJC’s approach to patient care and communication. This was all part of an age-old tradition that called for the sharing of advances and techniques within the medical field.

In 1994, Dr. and Mrs. Olesen released their first software program—INFORM&CONSENT®—to meet this need. The INFORM&CONSENT® application enabled these other practices to offer personalized cosmetic surgery booklets to their patients—which would ultimately help the patients with the overall surgical experience.

Their software expanded to include patient communication systems, surveys, and practice performance metrics that Marie developed to measure patient satisfaction and pinpoint patient service issues at LJC.

Other Practices Look to LJC for Consulting and Training

Over the next few years, hundreds of plastic surgery practices would go on to embrace our groundbreaking software. LJC began to host meetings and became a training center for plastic surgeons and their patient care teams. Plastic surgeons and their staffs would fly in from around the country and across the globe to learn LJC’s systems and approach to cosmetic patient care and communication.

We Wrote the Book on Cosmetic Surgery

In 2003, Wiley Publishing decided to develop a new book in their Dummies series: Cosmetic Surgery For Dummies. Because of their leadership in the cosmetic surgery industry, Dr. and Mrs. Olesen were asked to write the book. They immediately involved other physicians too, to get more input and create a truly customer-focused guidebook for people wanting to learn more about the various procedures available as well as how to be a savvy shopper and ask the right questions.

Marie, our CEO and a consumer advocate, explains, “Shopping for cosmetic surgery is extremely complex and consumers need help understanding the issues that increase their safety and are more likely to help them have a positive outcome. We loved the casual For Dummies style and hoped it would reduce some anxiety for prospective patients.”

Past President of the San Diego Plastic Surgery Society and LJC plastic surgeon Dr. Johan Brahme continues to champion patient education and safety. “There are so many choices out there that you should do your homework when shopping for cosmetic procedures. You want to be in the best hands possible and to do so you need to arm yourself with the best information available.”

Marie, LJC’s current CEO, continues to advocate for superior patient care

Looking to the Future

And as always, LJC continues to improve upon patient care systems using education, informed consent and open lines of communication with our patients and every member of our practice.

We’re also exploring new ways to increase communication through blogging and social networking.

But no matter what the future holds for LJC, our commitment will always be to our patients and ensuring we provide the best possible experience for them.