Melinda Farina has been playing plastic surgery matchmaker for the past 15 years, linking patients with the right physician for their aesthetic needs
by Jessica Jones-Gorman
Ask Melinda Farina the truth about plastic surgery, dermal fillers, and injectable neurotoxins like Botox, and you’ll get an extremely honest answer.
“Botox is basically a birthright these days; it’s a household word in most places at this point,” the beauty guru said, candidly describing the now-habitual state of aesthetic medicine during a phone interview from her Manhattan apartment. “When they first emerged, cosmetic injections were harshly judged and criticized, but now women get their faces fixed every four months—a little bit of preventive maintenance to help take the aging away.”
Plus there are more varieties of the neurotoxin on the market now, Farina explained. Botox competitors like Dysport and Xeomin have proven their efficiency over the past few years, and doctors are now even using microneedling techniques to close pores.
“In terms of minimally invasive maintenance, there are so many more positive uses and applications than there have been in the past,” Farina said.
She should know. As owner of The Beauty Brokers, Inc., an aesthetic consulting firm that has referred thousands of clients to a network of surgeons over the past 15 years, Farina has made it a business to play matchmaker between patient and practitioner.
And it all began with a part-time gig in a local dentist’s office.
“I started filing charts and learning my way around a dental office at the age of 14,” she said, describing her first job in her Staten Island hometown. “I became so interested in the field of dentistry that I went to school for dental hygiene.”
At the age of 19, while she was still attending NYU, she moved to Manhattan.
“I thought that if I was going to learn about dentistry I needed to learn from the best, so I got a job in the office of Dr. Larry Rosenthal, a famous New York city dentist who is basically the godfather of dental veneers,” Farina said. “His client list was filled with models and movie stars—all of the A-listers went to him—and I was learning so much, watching him work on these $100,000 restorative cases.”
Even more impressive was Dr. Rosenthal’s business model, Farina explained. “He had this box of referral cards at the front desk,” she said. “In it was contact information for tons of specialists: dermatologists, plastic surgeons…you name it. I admired that box, and wondered what doctor would place so much value on referring patients to other doctors? I was intrigued by the business model almost as much as I was intrigued by his attention to detail.”
So, as the young student learned the intricacies of dental aesthetics (“Where even one tiny millimeter can make a difference”), she also became intrigued by the field of plastic surgery.
“Dr. Rosenthal would host these worldwide continuums during which international doctors would come to the United States to learn his method of preparing the mouth for veneers,” Farina said. “I was responsible for coordinating those continuums for him, so I started to sit in on the lectures. I learned about his treatment plan and how the office should be run. The whole business behind aesthetic medicine and dentistry is amazing. There’s a psychology of connecting with patients, and suddenly that was what I wanted to study.”
Farina enrolled at Columbia and began studying organizational psychology. She concurrently worked full-time with Rosenthal, meeting with doctors from London and Dubai to teach them the business of treatment planning.
“I was attending school full-time and then flying all over the world on the weekends to assist these doctors,” Farina said, and in the midst of all of that career chaos, decided to go under the knife herself. “I had always hated my nose, and since I was working with all of these doctors, I started taking notice of who did what best. I spoke to a couple of plastic surgeons before I found one whose photos really spoke to me. I got this rhinoplasty, and it was the best thing I ever did.”
Others thought so, too.
“I worked in an Upper East Side dental office where plastic surgery was commonplace,” Farina said. “It was a well-done rhinoplasty, and people started to notice. Within the first two weeks of my surgery I had referred 25 patients to my doctor.” In two months, that number grew to 250. My doctor called me personally to ask what I was doing. All of these patients were coming into his office, telling him I sent them.”
So, Farina started taking a look at other plastic surgeons, researching who performed the best face-lifts and breast augmentations. She asked Rosenthal to introduce her to all of the top plastic surgeons in New York City.
“It became like a hobby and took up all of my free time,” she said. “I took inventory of who did what well, and Dr. Rosenthal helped me connect so that I was able to walk in and observe in operatory. I took notice of all the up-and-coming docs, and before you knew it, word got out and patients were lining up in Dr. Rosenthal’s office after hours, asking me for my referral.”
She answered emails, calls, and texts from friends and friends of friends, offering advice on all types of procedures.
“It consumed my life. I was seeing hundreds of clients each month,” Farina said. “I was 22 years old, very socially savvy, handing out business cards at all different kinds of events, working on four hours of sleep most nights, building up a client base, and never charging a dime for my help. It seemed insane, but I quit my job and launched a business, never really knowing if it was going to work.”
But it did. Calling the referral company Integrated Aesthetic Consulting, Farina hit the pavement and aligned herself with a collection of respected plastic surgeons to whom she would refer clients.
“I only approached doctors I believed in…doctors who had proven results and satisfied patients,” Farina said. “They would pay an annual fee to be in my network, and I would refer clients to their office.”
Within the first week, she signed up 12 surgeons and specialists, choosing one doctor for each of 12 procedures.
“This guy would get all the rhinoplasties, this guy would get all the breast augmentations, this guy would get all the veneers,” Farina said. “The idea caught on quickly, but I struggled financially for two to three years because I wasn’t charging the doctors enough and my consultations were free. But it wasn’t hard to up the price. I was referring thousands of patients to these doctors, so this network was very much worth their while.”
Farina also expanded her services to Beverly Hills and Miami (“I figured, why not go to all of the plastic surgery hubs?”), and business began to boom. She currently works with more than 550 doctors across the United States.
“The business gradually built itself up,” she said. “I started networking with corporate liaisons—went straight to Harvey Weinstein, met with publicists and modeling agencies—and they started referring all of their clients to me.”
Within just a few years, Farina found herself working with the same A-list clientele she had become accustomed to at Rosenthal’s office. She credits the company’s success to simple, honest business practices.
“I genuinely care for the needs of each and every one of my patients,” she said. “I only align myself with doctors who have proven themselves—I have worked with too many botched surgical cases not to know that you need to find the right doctor with the right expertise.”
Farina currently sees 10 clients a day, offering each an hour consult for a small fee. In addition to referring for basic aesthetic procedures, she also helps those needing reconstructive surgery.
“Plastic surgery isn’t just about picking a new nose out of a catalog or enhancing the size of your breasts,” she said. “I work with a lot of surgeons who put people’s faces and bodies back together after cancer has been cut out, for example. That part of the business is very gratifying because it offers a chance to help someone who has struggled significantly and desires just a little bit of normal.”
She admits her business model is unique, but insists it’s on the up-and-up. “In the medical industry, it is illegal to get paid a percentage of the work being done—that’s Stark Law,” she said. “I knew that from the beginning. This is different. As a beauty broker, I am doing a service for both the patient and the physician, identifying doctors who, time after time, have provided legitimate results.”
And yes, Farina does turn away surgeons. “Before I sign a doctor I follow their consistency for one to two years,” she said. “There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in plastic surgery. A lot of false advertising—doctors who are delivering Botox while not board-certified to do so. Words like ‘cosmetic dermatologist’ are an automatic red flag. There are a lot of doctors out there who should be outlawed.”
That’s in part why the entrepreneur started this business in the first place. “I’m the middle man who can break things
“Before I sign a doctor I follow their consistency for one to two years. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in plastic surgery. A lot of false advertising.”
down into laymen’s terms,” she explained. “And because of my experience, I open a patient’s eyes to details they might not pay attention to. Just last week, I had a young Indian girl come in, searching for a doctor for her rhinoplasty. I referred her to one who specializes in ethnic cases. It completely changed the direction of her surgery when she viewed his photos—all young women who looked just like her.”
And according to Farina, future developments in the field of plastic surgery will only create a greater need for her service.
“Women are now getting full face-lifts with dermal fillers,” she said. “The pharmaceutical companies are out there, hosting meetings and shows, teaching doctors new ways of filling the face, and there’s definitely cool things to be done. People who are considering a rhinoplasty can now have their noses manipulated with fillers that temporarily show the outcome, so they can walk around with their ‘new’ nose for six months or so and sort of test it out, make sure it’s for them.”
These services, she added, are not for everyone.
“That’s what I’m here for,” Farina concluded. “It’s my job to stay on top of each and every one of these innovations and let my patients know which one will work for their aesthetic needs.”