If you’re privy to the latest skincare treatments or enjoy the odd scroll through the beauty world of Instagram, then you’re likely to have come across the cosmetic work of Dr. Ewoma Ukeleghe. Having traded general practice at the NHS to pursue her passion for aesthetic medicine, Dr. Ewoma is a clinical expert in skincare & non-surgical enhancement. Founded in 2017, her London-based clinic SKN Doctor is frequented by a number of loyal clients, spanning across various ethnicities. Not a stranger to public speaking or sharing her insights, Dr. Ewoma has worked with some of the beauty industry’s most notable brands including Glossier, Bioderma and Vogue, to name a few. We sat down to talk about her career journey, the importance of representation and how she is able to build a community in a traditionally corporate industry.
On growing up and childhood dreams
Growing up, I remember I wanted to be two things – an artist and scientist and I guess I’ve achieved that now? It was later when I was 15 years old that I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I wasn’t one of those people who knew they wanted to be a doctor from birth – that just wasn’t me. There are no doctors in my family. None on my mother’s or father’s side, I am actually the first.
During my A Levels, my teacher encouraged me to try Art School and I thought “Okay, cool. This would be really good because it is something I love” at the same time, I realised that was not an option because my traditional Nigerian parents did not agree with it. I also thought that whilst I enjoy it now, what would be the long term plan?
Breaking the mould
For so long throughout most of my life, I have been fighting what I naturally have. Whether it be trying to fit my entire being into an artist mould or a scientific mould. I think it’s important to embrace who you are, I realised that I do not have to fit into either and that is okay. It’s important to make space for yourself. And now that I have made that space, I feel like I am really flourishing in it. I definitely have my stresses and anxieties just like everyone else, especially when you are running a business but recently I found myself saying to friends, “I just feel really happy.”
Career fulfilment has always been important to me and I think that’s why I picked medicine. As a teenager, I always knew I wanted to be able to say, “I’ve made a difference in someone’s life”. That’s what I really wanted, now fast forward 11 years, and it’s amazing to see that being fulfilled.It’s important to make space for yourself. And now that I have made that space, I feel like I am really flourishing in it. – Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, founder SKN Doctor Click To Tweet
The journey to becoming a doctor
In 2010, I began my education at Liverpool Medical School, where I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Medicine and Surgery. Overall it was a good experience but very different to London. After graduating in 2015, I moved back down to London to begin my foundation years, which are the first two years of postgraduate medicine. During my time there I was able to rotate through different hospitals and GP’s in East London and Essex. It didn’t take long for me to realise I hated it. That realisation in itself was weird because I had always been super keen in medical school and then all of a sudden it’s like I’ve been massively disillusioned.
Looking back, it wasn’t what I thought it was at all. I found that a lot of the time it just didn’t feel like medicine. Much of the time there looked like a system of ticking boxes and doing paperwork, not necessarily doing things in the interest of patients. Eventually, I became very burnt out. I was very anxious and depressed. It was just too much. Not only becoming a new doctor but combined with the fact that in my fourth year my mum fell quite ill, there was a lot to deal with. At one point, my professional life was in a hospital for up to 80 hours a week and then my personal life – a lot of it was spent in the hospital too.
The thing about being a doctor is that at times it can get very mentally and emotionally exhausting because in every area of your life someone wants something from you. Even for those that are really strong, it gets a bit much.
On forging a new career path; the birth of SKN Doctor
Towards the end of my two years of postgraduate medicine, I left my permanent role and decided to contract within the NHS as a doctor. It was funny because I was very close to leaving medicine full stop. I remember having a really awful weekend shift and crying on the phone, on the bathroom floor telling my sister, “I hate this, I want to leave”. At the time, I was editing my CV for corporate jobs, until I thought, “I have all these skills that I can’t just throw away”. So I made the decision to see if there was something else I could do within the medical space. I embarked on a type of self-discovery which involved going to different events, networking and being exposed to doctors that had diversified into different fields. Also, because I was on the tail end of recovering from burnout, I sought to take this time out for myself too.I embarked on a type of self-discovery which involved going to different events, networking and being exposed to doctors that had diversified into different fields. Click To Tweet
Then I came across aesthetics and it was like “oh my God, this is a thing!” Three or four years ago, it wasn’t as big as what it is now. So I said to myself “I think this is for me”. From there I threw myself into it. I was also able to invest the money I got from contracting into aesthetics. And then shortly after that, SKN Doctor was born.
The importance of representation within medicine as black women
From an aesthetic doctor point of view, black women don’t really exist. On a mainstream level, I can probably count them on one hand. For example, late last year I went to an aesthetics awards show; one of the major, if not the most major aesthetic awards shows where all of the specialists come from across the country. And you could literally point out the black people. We just don’t exist.
Even fundamentally, when it comes to marketing and the visual branding of most clinics and skincare brands, they don’t typically feature a lot of black women. And if they do, it’s usually a certain shade or hair texture. Also, possibly there is a stigma around non-surgical treatments within the black community. A lot of that I think is due to misinformation and misconceptions. And I guess, you can’t be what you don’t see. It’s complex.
After my Vogue feature, I’ve had a lot of black and ethnic girls send me messages saying things like “oh, you inspire me”. Even a couple of days ago, one of my black clients who came in for injectables brought her sister all the way from Leicester just so that she could see herself represented! And then before we knew it, I was giving her a big sister little sister talk. By the end of it, she said “can I have a picture with you?” She’s 13 by the way! [Ewoma laughs] I think that’s the first time someone had asked me for a picture! Hearing people’s feedback like that, it means the world to me. It’s why I do what I do.There is a stigma around non-surgical treatments within the black community. A lot of that I think is due to misinformation and misconceptions. – Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, founder SKN Doctor Click To Tweet
Ewoma’s approach to personal branding
My branding has 100% been a conscious decision, I guess the days where people would just present a clinic as a business in the traditional sense is very year 2000. Nowadays, you really need to bring yourself into the front and centre of your business. People buy people, not clinic space. By putting myself to the forefront, I reflect the values and the image of my brand better than anyone else. And also, it adds that extra authority and trust between the brand and our followers/clients.You really need to bring yourself into the front and centre of your business. By putting myself to the forefront, I reflect the values and the image of my brand better than anyone else. – Dr. Ewoma Ukeleghe, founder SKN Doctor Click To Tweet
On raising capital for SKN Doctor
I haven’t raised funding, though it will be something I will be thinking about in the future. Initially, how I facilitated SKN Doctor was through the contracting that I was doing in the hospitals. So, because the pay was very decent I would use the surplus to reinvest in the business. And then in order to open up the SKN Doctor clinic, I decided to take out a business loan, which was actually pretty straightforward as I did this through a funding circle.
On building community
I would say I get at least 90% of my clients through social media. The women that come to me then tell their friends. Press also plays a role, but primarily my clientele come through social media.
A community should be front and centre of your business, especially if it’s a business that you really want to make a brand out of. If you analyse a lot of the new beauty or influencer brands, they have managed to be so successful because they have built a community. Huda Kattan of Huda Beauty, for example. She could have easily started a beauty line from day one, but she didn’t. What she did instead is build her community, create engagement and start by selling eyelashes. Once she had built a buzz, then she began launching an entire makeup line. So, I think people really need to understand the importance of community.
At times people bring out products too quickly and then try to build a community. The problem with doing things this way is that often times it’s not authentic. I think one of my gifts and something I have put into SKN Doctor is that I am able to recognise patterns. I research a lot and so I am always going on news sites like Business of Fashion because I believe that success leaves clues. When you look at success, you see the patterns. You just have to do them.I believe that success leaves clues. When you look at success, you see the patterns. – Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, founder SKN Doctor Click To Tweet
Advice for those that want to pursue the path of cosmetic practice
If it wasn’t obvious, first and foremost they need to be a doctor. [Ewoma laughs]. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s not as easy as it looks. You won’t have a ready-made customer base. From a doctor point of view, these are your private patients. It’s not like a hospital where you may just refer a case to one of your consultants. Everything is on you and so you need to be comfortable with that. You need to be comfortable with being available at all times.
From a business point of view, you need to be open-minded. You need to be savvy, you need to learn things which may not naturally come to you easy. You’re always going to be working. Even when I am not in the SKN Doctor space, I am always thinking about how to better the business. It really can consume every area of your life. But if it’s something you are passionate about, it’s entirely worth it.