Do you ever feel as if the media paints nail salons in a negative light? Words like "unsafe" and "dangerous" can take a toll on a tech and can cause her to believe things that just aren’t true. Test yourself. Have you ever thought "Doctors don’t like when clients wear acrylic nails"? How about, "Doctors frown on clients getting pedicures at the salon"? The phobia worsens if a tech ever hears a client mention her doctor has said something negative about nail salons.

It may feel as if you’re in a position of having to defend yourself to doctors, but don’t give in to that thought. The truth is, there’s been a shift in thinking. Innovative techs and doctors are working together to build relationships that result in cross-referral between professions. When this happens, the reputation of the tech and the salon immediately improves, and doctors immediately gain the confidence to send their patients to a trustworthy salon.

If you’re one of those techs who is looking for a mutually beneficial relationship with a doctor, here’s some good news: You’re in the driver’s seat. "Physicians aren’t often contacted by nail salons," says Dr. Rashid M. Rashid, M.D., Ph.D., a house staff dermatologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and director of the nail, hair, and skin disease division of the Morzak Center. "They may not know how to build a relationship with a nail salon. This is the chance for the nail tech to take the lead and develop mutual goals."

Techs may feel apprehensive about approaching doctors: They’re busy; they don’t respect our industry; they won’t listen to me. "That’s the wrong way to think," says Athena Elliott, a certified Medical Nail Technician (MNT). Elliott has referring relationships with multiple doctors and operates SPAthena in Houston. "It’s a false impression that a doctor wouldn’t want to have a relationship with a nail tech or salon," says Elliott. "A nail tech’s job is to recognize and refer; a doctor’s job is to diagnose and treat." It automatically establishes respect when you communicate this distinction to a doctor.

Though a doctor may appreciate a tech approaching her to build a mutually beneficial relationship, it’s important to consider how to communicate to create a successful impression. "Go into a podiatry office and introduce yourself," says Manhattan-based
Dr. Johanna Youner, DPM, FACFAS. "Podiatry is a small, happy profession and podiatrists have always been a good referral source." In the same way, a personal introduction to a dermatologist puts a face with a name and allows you to establish a warm first impression that is less likely from an introduction by letter, e-mail, or phone call.

Doctors know their clients like getting salon services, says Dr. Youner. So they often look for a salon where they can refer clients. If you want it to be your salon, you need to look at the salon through the eyes of a doctor. "When a doctor goes into a salon, she immediately starts looking at ways disease can be transmitted," says Dr. Youner. "Water transmits disease, so doctors are looking at how the implements are cleaned, how the tub is cleaned, and if the salon is following state rules, such as using (or not using) a pedi stone." Knowing what concerns a doctor has allowed the tech to address those specific issues. Techs will want to clearly articulate the salon’s safety standards.

"You’ll have no barriers with doctors if you know what you’re talking about," says Elliott. She advocates that techs complete the Advanced Nail Technician (ANT) program ( The program was developed by a podiatrist and nail techs, and it teaches topics such as working in an aseptic environment, personal protection, and disposal methods. Part of the requirement of the program is forming relationships with doctors. The program provides forms for techs to fill out so clients have something to hand to the doctor and forms for the doctor to fill out for clients to hand back to the tech. This keeps both professionals aware of clients’ progress.

Though Elliott believes the ANT program helps techs have the knowledge and confidence to approach doctors, she says the initial time she approached a doctor was because she wanted help. "I went to the podiatrist and told him that a bunch of my clients have diabetes, and I asked him to help me identify fungal infections," says Elliott. The doctor was so impressed that Elliott came to him to gain knowledge and advice, he took the time to teach and educate her about how to identify problems and how to provide service for these at-risk patients.

"My advice to a tech who wants to build a relationship is to put together a package that has pictures of the salon and explains the way you sanitize and sterilize," she says. "Let the doctor know you want to partner with him, not against him." Remember, it’s important to bring information to the doctor that is relevant to his needs. She might enjoy looking at the beauty and charm of your salon, but that won’t cause her to refer her patients to you. She wants to know how the salon is disinfecting and cleaning the worktables, pedi tubs, implements, hands, and feet.

Techs may want to offer to perform a manicure or pedicure on a doctor, talking through each step to help the doctor understand the safety standards of the salon. In addition, don’t be shy about asking a doctor’s opinion or even any concerns she might have of referring a client to a salon. Remember, doctors may have misconceptions about nail salons and nail techs as often as the reverse.

Just as doctors want to have confidence in referring to a salon, so a tech wants to have confidence in referring to a doctor, says Dr. Rashid. Just as every nail tech or salon won’t take the necessary steps to disinfect correctly, not every doctor will take the time to fully evaluate a nail and give it the attention it deserves. "Like any business, a curve exists on skills and attention to detail," says Dr. Rashid. "Both the doctor and the tech want to work with someone in the middle or the top part of the curve." Dr. Youner agrees. There is a percentage of doctors who will be disrespectful when you approach them, but don’t let that stop you. "Some people will be negative no matter what. Don’t work with those people," says Dr. Youner. "Find someone who isn’t negative, and build a relationship with that doctor."

Techs will want to build relationships with multiple doctors: dermatologists, podiatrists, and general practitioners. "Anything on the foot, refer to a podiatrist," says Dr. Youner. "Anything on the hands, refer to a dermatologist." It can be tricky to find a dermatologist with extensive training or focus on nails, says Dr. Rashid. "Once you find one, you’ll want to stick with him," he advises. Dr. Youner says it’s good to establish a relationship with a general practitioner, because the general, primary-care doctor would be able to diagnose and treat many nail and skin conditions. Ideally, she says, a tech should establish relationships with doctors from multiple fields, which allows the most appropriate referral.

Tips to Building a Relationship With a Doctor

>The most important factor in establishing a relationship with a doctor is knowing and adhering to industry standards or higher. When you communicate your knowledge and attention to detail regarding salon safety standards, it gains you respect.

>Have two to three main points; make your meeting friendly, brief, and concise. Bring along a promotional item that you can leave to remind the doctor of you and your salon.

>Bring along a promotional item that you can leave to remind the doctor of you and your salon.

>Bring pictures that show the set-up in the salon and a list of practices you use to keep the salon clean and implements disinfected.

>Be willing to learn.

>Remember, the doctor knows it’s beneficial to have a salon where she can refer clients, so present yourself with confidence.

What’s Important to Doctors?

>Knowing implements are sterile. Autoclaving impresses doctors.  

>A salon that follows industry standards, including how the tub is cleaned, instruments are sterilized or discarded, and the hands of the client and the tech are sanitized before every service. 

>A tech who knows her limitations and will refer to a doctor before she crosses the line from recognizing a problem to diagnosing a problem. 

>Continued interaction. Don’t introduce yourself and then fall off the map. Stay in touch with the doctors periodically to keep the relationship active.

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