Today, La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre & Medical Spa (LJC) is a highly respected medical practice in San Diego, CA. 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 1,200 plastic surgeons across the globe.
But 35 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. Our story began with a vision and the groundbreaking steps our founder, R. Merrel Olesen, MD, took to make it a reality.
A New Idea: The Cosmetic Surgery Center
Back in 1988, 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 clients had very different needs than the typical medical patient. Unlike medical patients who were driven by disease or trauma, his cosmetic clients were driven by emotional concerns as well as physical complaints.
Dr. Olesen wanted things for the people he treated that were not possible in a large multi-specialty setting. He believed the best care involved a specialized and highly skilled team of professionals—including board-certified plastic surgeons, registered nurses, and a well-trained administrative staff.
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 Dream 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. They were equally impressed with our AAAASF-accredited operating room and use of board-certified MD anesthesiologists—which we insisted upon long before operating suite certification was required under the law.
Dr. Olesen found the turn-of-the-century sign you see to the right that embodied his beliefs, and it still hangs in the practice today as a reminder of our values.
5 Fast Facts About Our Founder
- Dr. Olesen holds dual board certifications from the American Board of Medical Specialties in Plastic Surgery and Otolaryngology (head and neck surgery).
- He completed surgical residencies at the University of Michigan and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, NYC.
- He attended medical school at Loma Linda University where he was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, comprised of the top 10% of medical students.
- A former president of the San Diego Plastic Surgery Society, he has been a clinical instructor for plastic surgery at the University of California at San Diego since 1970.
- Dr. Olesen is noted for his volunteer work at La Mesa Penitentiary in Tijuana Mexico, where, for ten years, he donated his reconstructive surgical skills to prisoners with congenital or acquired deformities.
Involving You 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, which are still in use more than 35 years later.
What We Learned From You
Early responses to our 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 that clients wanted something else. One woman expressed her desire to become a “partner” in the cosmetic surgery process. Another 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.
Making Information Accessible
These were pre-Internet days when people 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, MD) spent the next two years writing comprehensive informed consent and medical education materials to meet unanswered needs. Marie also added educational materials to help people prepare for surgery and understand recovery. She gathered all the materials that they would receive 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 satisfaction soared. Meanwhile, Marie continued on her quest to develop proactive 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 people experienced our higher levels of communication and education. Word about the “books” also spread rapidly among patients—and soon to other local surgeons.
A Breakthrough in Care & Communication
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 who wanted to provide similar materials to their clients.
Accordingly, they decided to create a system so other practices could apply LJC’s approach to 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—which would ultimately improve the overall surgical experience. Their software expanded and became INFORM&ENHANCE® to include industry-transforming communication systems, surveys, and practice performance metrics that Marie developed to measure satisfaction, pinpoint service issues, and enhance LJC patient experiences.
Becoming a Beacon for Surgeons Worldwide
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 staff would fly in from around the country and across the globe to learn LJC’s systems and approach to cosmetic care and communication.
LJC has gone on to win awards for our exceptional care and the joyful experience we offer each person who visits us. We’ve received honors both locally and globally, and we’re proud to now be San Diego’s most-awarded aesthetic team.
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 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.”
Passing the Torch
Dr. Olesen retired from active practice in 2005 and enjoyed his retirement years spending time with Marie and their dogs, Charlie and Lulu. He enjoyed playing duplicate bridge, was an avid reader, and became an excellent breadmaker at one point. He studied in France as a youth and enjoyed speaking French with his French Club. Dr. Olesen was the proud father of three and has two granddaughters. Up until his death in May 2023, he maintained a keen interest in what was happening at LJC and how to continue its rich traditions of quality care and excellent communication. If you would like to read his obituary and/or leave a comment, please do so here.
Looking to the Future
As always, LJC continues to improve upon 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, podcasting, and social networking.
But no matter what the future holds for LJC, our commitment will always be to you and to ensuring we provide the best possible experience as we make your dream real together.