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A personal story of adapting under pressure

I was recently interviewed for The Edge, A Leader’s Magazine. They asked many in-depth questions about being an entrepreneur, being a leader and how COVID has affected “one of the most prestigious medi-spas in Canada.” My answers can be found in the interview (theedgeleaders.com/dr-diane-wong-a-force-to-be-reckoned-with), but I want to confess the full truth here.

I have been shaken to the core. I want to stand up for our award-winning reputation and write an inspirational piece to say that we have grown even stronger from the experience. I want to say that if you stay positive and lead your team, and ride the wave like an entrepreneur would, you will come out of this nightmare unscathed. Yet I can’t do it now and I wasn’t able to do it when I was originally approached to write a few words for Spa Inc. when the pandemic first hit in the spring of this year. I thought that I was expected to say something positive and show how innovative we would be moving forward. I couldn’t do it.

I was at a loss for words. I was in shock. I had to catch my breath and digest the vastness of what had happened to the world. As a physician, I absorbed the information every day and dreaded what was still yet to come. Sometimes having more knowledge makes it even worse. I had lived through the era of SARS as a family doctor, where my community in Markham had been one of the affected regions. That was nothing in comparison to the ravaging effects of COVID-19. I grieved for all the lives lost and felt so grateful for all the front-line workers. I felt guilty for being a physician and not helping in the immense battle except to donate my PPE to the local nursing homes who were in such desperate need. I was consumed with worry and fear and went through a very difficult time, with very little sleep and no appetite and a feeling of impending doom. Depression? Anxiety? Or just a normal reaction for such a very abnormal time?

I knew our lives would never be the same. We had taken for granted all that we had and it was gone in a flash. I knew my life, my business, the industry would be changed forever. I did not know and still do not know if we will recover enough to resume where we left off. I knew I had already given it my all, and I did not know how much more I could muster once we surfaced from the depths of the aftermath. When would it be? A year, two years? More?

I tried to be optimistic but realistically, I did not foresee that a vaccine would be on the horizon in less than three years; however, I am happy to say that I was wrong. Today is a pivotal day. As I write this article, Canada has just approved the Pfizer vaccine and the first doses are just around the corner. Why is this so important? It gives us hope. We cannot go on without hope. As entrepreneurs, we often go down a dark unknown path, but we do it knowing there is hope for what lies ahead. Without hope, it is a daunting task, indeed.

I took the time during the first lockdown to assess the situation, my career and my business. After 20 long years, I thought I had seen just about everything. I mean, I was around for the introduction of IPL (Intense Pulse Light) and laser hair removal and Botox and dermal fillers. No one even knew back then what the word “Botox” was, and when I spoke about it, no one could understand why a person would want to have a toxin injected into their face. We have come a long way. It has been an exciting career to be among some of the first physicians to introduce the marvels of non-surgical cosmetic medicine to so many people. I was an educator in injectables and lasers. I had a strong voice in the media and cautioned the public to remember “buyer beware.” The spa industry also embraced the world of medical esthetics and the term “medi” in “medi-spa” gradually lost its meaning. I joined the Leading Spas of Canada about a decade ago and was determined to work with the leaders in the spa industry to ensure public safety. It has been a gratifying relationship, and I have enjoyed the collaboration and making a difference together.

I am now saddened to see the spa industry undergoing such a decline. It is heartening, however, to see everyone rally and devise new protocols and procedures as we move forward. I do know first-hand that there is still a high demand for our esthetic services, whether they be medical treatments or spa treatments. People still want to be pampered, and to feel special. They still want to look good and feel good, get their beauty boosts and upkeep their preventative routines. Our industries have not died. Rather, they have a need to be revamped. New protocols will be created to enhance client safety and will become the new standard of care. We are in a time of change, and it is a good time to make things even better for the future.

When I decided to reopen, I waited for the green light from the government and health officials. I exercised extreme caution and opened very gradually. I went through all the logistics of installing barrier plexiglass, carrying out sanitation measures with antiseptics, disinfectants, hand washing, masks, shields, gloves, etc. I invested in special HEPA filters for each room. I did all the screening questions, took everyone’s temperature and limited the number of clients to the extreme minimum. I was fortunate to have ample space to allow social distancing easily. Clients who returned expressed they were comfortable in our clinic and entrusted us to take all precautions. The love for my work and the joy of seeing my clients again gave me back some semblance of normalcy. The best therapy for me proved to be coming back to work and injecting once again.

Behind the scenes, however, the stresses continue. HR is often one of the most challenging aspects of the business, and these times are no exception. Uncertainty about government subsidies, dealing with the administrative issues, employee issues, landlords, ongoing bills, etc. has never been more challenging. The focus is no longer on the client but on the forms, the changing day-to-day plans, the restaffing, the retraining, the closing, the rescheduling – yes, again, for the second lockdown! The cycle starts yet again. How resilient are you? How much is too much?

Maybe the answer depends on what stage you are at in your career or in your business? Are you just beginning, still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? Or have you seen enough and done enough to know that your vast experience can have a different value now. What do you enjoy? Are you happy? What have you sacrificed and at what price? Do some soul-searching.

I heard the craziest thing the other day. A skincare rep said to me that some clinics are doing so well in their new online shopping platform that they never want the pandemic to end. I don’t know about you, but that’s not me and I can’t wait for this pandemic to end.

I wish for you all to stay safe and stay healthy. With the arrival of vaccines, we can have hope that 2021 will be a better year for all of us.

Dr. Diane Wong

Dr. Diane Wong

Dr. Wong, MD, is the owner and founder of Glow Medi Spa, with three convenient and luxurious locations in the Greater Toronto Area: Yorkville (downtown Toronto), Aurora and Markham, Ontario. Glow Medi Spa was voted as the Top Medi Spa in Canada for the past two consecutive years and Top 25 Spa in Canada for the past three consecutive years. Glow Medi Spa also received the Business of the Year Award in 2018.

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