Reflections on a Career in Cosmetic Medicine

At Key Laser we’re always looking ahead. What the new scientific breakthrough? What’s the new treatment that will help our patients ever better? What’s NEXT?

You may see this phenomenon in your own life. We’re programmed to plan, to save, to forge ahead into the unknown with a solid understanding of where we going.

Yet sometimes in all that forging ahead, we forget to look back on all that we’ve accomplished. Some of our best achievements happened while we were making other plans!

Now, as one year draws to a close, we thought it was a good time to reflect on how Key Laser Institute began. Key Laser Institute is the dream and reality of Dr. Douglas Key. We asked Dr. Key about his early years as a doctor and his journey to today.

KLI: When did you decide to be a doctor?
Dr. Key: That’s hard to say exactly when, but doctors were always big hero figures for me. Both my uncles were doctors. I always thought of doctors doing good, and certainly in those days when your doctor made house calls, and came to your home late, late at night, there was a lot to be said for how great medicine was.

KLI: When did you decide to focus on dermatology?
Dr. Key: I was signed up as a fourth year medical student for a four- month rotation with a visiting high profile physician, who was a really big deal in a relatively new area at the time, renal transplant surgery. But that fell through at the last minute, so I had to come up with plan B, which was totally opposite. I ended up spending time with a visiting doc from Australia. In this time I did lab investigative work in electron microscopy and for better or worse, dermatology. I always thought I would hate it, but actually it was great! It was love at first sight!

KLI: Early in your career you were involved in clinical research. What is the value of research?
Dr. Key: It all begins with the research. I believe we know so little about the whys, so the only way to go forward is to learn more. It’s like being in a race. There’s always a better way, if only we knew where to look for the answer. The answer is usually right in front of us, if only we could see it.

The first uses of applied Vitamin A, the beginnings of Retin A, were almost by accident. Our lead investigator had a chance meeting with a lab down the hall who was working with different kinds of Vitamin A. One of the outcomes led to the first trials of Vitamin A acid for psoriasis. The trials for acne were to come later.

KLI: When you were a general dermatologist in the 70s and 80s were there any use of lasers for skin treatments? When did you start to see the potential for laser therapy for skin and body rejuvenation?
Dr. Key: Let’s not forget the first lasers in medicine begin with a great doctor Leon Goldman [in the 1960s Dr. Goldman used lasers to treat melanoma] and that led to the use of a ruby laser to treat tattoos. Who would have thought?
But lasers had a slow beginning before we realized they could be used not just as another type of surgery, but for entirely different kinds of treatments. Surgery results, but without the surgery.

What a beginning it was! I was able to treat hundreds of children and young adults for their port wine stains or blood vessel marks covering the face. All of a sudden, we were treating what was unimaginable before. We were the first West Coast site to treat tattoos, and those first patients were part of the beginning. We were now able to treat patients for the first time, for whom there were simply no great choices before.

KLI: When you first founded Key Laser Institute in 1998, what kinds of treatments did you perform?
Dr. Key: It seems so short a time now, 15 years, but these have been years of unbelievable change. For many years this medical practice focused on dermatology, skin cancer surgery and lasers and now we have grown to be able to offer so much more. The liposuction we perform now is totally noninvasive with the use of CoolSculpting and Liposonix. Ulthera can give surgical facelift-like results without the surgery. And ThermiTight which we began the first cases last year, now a year later, just gained FDA clearance last week.

KLI: Many of your patients have been seeing you for years. What are you able to offer them now that was never imaginable before?
Dr. Key: For the patients we have seen over these past 10-plus years, who started early, I am amazed at how often they look much better today than their photos of 10 years ago! The choices just get better, with more choices of treatments, and better treatments, with results that will last even longer. The future of cosmetic medicine has turned a corner, we are not just treating, we are preventing.

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