International Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Nurses (ISPAN) is a membership organization for plastic surgery and aesthetic nurses. They hold an annual conference for nurses and other healthcare professionals within the field. “Anybody who’s looking to get into this industry or is currently doing this, they really should be a member of ISPAN,” Suess said.
How to become an aesthetic/cosmetic nurse
It’s probably not the first nursing specialty that you think of, but aesthetic nurses are just as much a part of the nursing ecosystem as any other specialty. They assist with a variety of aesthetic and cosmetic procedures, many of which help patients look and feel their best. This can be an especially attractive specialty for nurses who prefer a less stressful, more laid-back career while still making a positive impact in patients’ lives.
What is aesthetic nursing?
Aesthetic nurses—sometimes called cosmetic nurses or alternatively spelled as esthetic nurses—support plastic surgeons, dermatologists, ophthalmologists and other physicians with various cosmetic procedures. These procedures may have a medical necessity for the patient, or they may be elective procedures like injectables or skincare treatments that the patient has opted for to improve their appearance and boost their confidence.
“It’s very much a subspecialty within dermatology, facial plastic surgery, plastic surgery and ocular plastics. You’re going to find aesthetic nurses in all of those specialties,” said Rebecca Suess, an aesthetic nurse and member of the International Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Nurses (ISPAN) Board of Directors.
How to become an aesthetic nurse
Earn a nursing degree.
In order to get a license as a registered nurse (RN), you must graduate from an accredited nursing program. For most new nurses, your options are earning either a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a four-year bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). Both types of programs, while different, prepare students for the same NCLEX-RN exam.
Get licensed as an RN.
After graduating from nursing school, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam in order to qualify for a nursing license. You’ll need to apply for a license with your state’s nursing regulatory body (NRB) which may entail submitting additional materials on top of your transcripts and passing exam score, such as a background check or jurisprudence exam. Every state’s process is a little different, so check with your NRB as soon as possible to find out what you must do to get your RN license.
Once you’re an RN, you’ll want to start gaining experience right away. You can certainly play the field and try out other specialties, but in order to qualify for the aesthetic nursing certification, you’ll eventually at least two years of experience working with a board-certified physician that specializes in either plastic/aesthetic surgery, ophthalmology, dermatology or facial plastic surgery (ENT).
RNs that meet the experience qualifications can sit for the Certified Aesthetic Nurse Specialist (CANS) exam administered by the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB). Getting certified demonstrates your experience and expertise to employers and could lead to better jobs with a higher pay within your specialty.
What do aesthetic nurses do?
Aesthetic nurses perform a variety of cosmetic procedures, most of which are patient-elected. Many of them are meant to cultivate a more youthful appearance, but there are also plenty of medical motivations behind some of these procedures. Botox, for example, is also used to mitigate sweating, prevent migraines, treat eye spasms and much more.
“…there are also plenty of medical motivations behind some of these procedures.”
Some of the types of procedures that aesthetic nurses perform and/or assist with include:
Where do they work?
Requirements to become an aesthetic nurse
The first step in any nursing career is to get your education from an accredited nursing program. You have the option of choosing a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) which typically takes four years to complete. Both programs are acceptable paths to licensure, but the biggest difference is that bachelor’s degrees require you to take additional classes in other subjects for a more well-rounded education. They cost more because they are longer, but they could pay off in the long run since some employers prefer (or may even require) their nurses to have a BSN.
For people that may already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject or some prior nursing experience as a licensed practical nurse (LPN/LVN) or similar role, there are also bridge and accelerated programs which fast-track you to a nursing degree by taking into account the education and experience you already have.
To take your career to the next level, you should consider getting certified as a way to show your commitment to your specialty and validate the experience you’ve gain in your area of practice. Plus, certification looks good to employers and could lead to better jobs with higher salaries.
Aesthetic nurses can become a Certified Aesthetic Nurse Specialist (CANS) through the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB). To earn this certification, you must pass the associated examination. Not just anyone can sit for the exam—you must satisfy the following before submitting an application:
The core specialties as referred to above are Plastic/Aesthetic Surgery, Ophthalmology, Dermatology or Facial Plastic Surgery (ENT).
Suess said that she cautions anyone thinking of getting into aesthetic nursing not to seek out an easy way in, particularly when it comes to certifications. There are many training courses out there claiming to issue certifications in aesthetic nursing, but if they aren’t offered by vetted providers, these certifications are really only certificates of attendance and little more.
“I really think the best thing to do is to take a staff nurse position at a dermatology clinic, plastic surgeon’s office, a facial plastic surgeon’s office, something like that. Then you are continually exposed to this stuff,” Suess said. “I really don’t think that there’s a quick shortcut to this industry.”
What to expect as an aesthetic nurse
Aesthetic nursing provides a much difference nursing experience when compared to other specialties. By the very nature of the procedures they perform, aesthetic nurses aren’t facing life-or-death scenarios on a daily basis compared to, say, a nurse working in the ICU.
“What brought me into it is that I like making people feel good. I think that’s what a lot of nurses want to do, but what’s nice about what I do is I’m never going to have to hold somebody’s hand as they’re dying. I don’t have a patient where I have to say, ‘We’ve done everything that we can do for you.’ You’re dealing with patients that are well, they’re not ill, they’re not sick. And it’s really just to make them look good and feel good about themselves.”
It may not sound like much, Suess said, but it can be incredibly gratifying to help people feel more confident about themselves. “That’s just more of where my heart lies, helping people build their self-esteem.”
“It may not sound like much,” Suess said, “but it can be incredibly gratifying to help people feel more confident about themselves.”
The fact that most procedures are elected by the patient is another quality that separates aesthetic nursing from most other specialties.
“If you’re a cardiac nurse and someone needs a triple bypass done, you just do it. Whereas in aesthetic nursing, it’s still medicine and you are making a professional treatment recommendation, you are essentially diagnosing and prescribing. However, the prescription is 100% optional.” As a result, these procedures are usually out-of-pocket and therefore incite conversations about costs, which may make some nurses uncomfortable. In other specialties, Suess said, you don’t tend to have those dollar and cents conversations.
Salary and job growth
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not compile salary data on specific nurse specialties. They do report, however, that the median annual salary for registered nurses is $81,220 according to their 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics.
Aesthetic nurses that want to learn more about the field can check out some of the following resources:
American Association of Aesthetic Medicine & Surgery (AAAMS) is another membership organization committed to advancing the field of aesthetic medicine and surgery. They offer numerous continuing education courses about aesthetic medicine.
Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB) is responsible for administering professional certifications for plastic surgery and aesthetic/cosmetic nurses.
American Nursing Association (ANA) is a national organization for nurses with chapters in every state. Members get access to numerous exclusive benefits.
“The biggest thing is that you’re constantly learning and you’re constantly educating yourself.”
Suess said that aesthetic nursing is still a relatively young niche in medicine, which means there’s still a lot of room for new discoveries and industry leaders to emerge. ISPAN’s annual conference is one such platform that nurses can present their findings and perhaps even inform how the field develops.
Published: July 20, 2023