The British College of Aesthetic Medicine was founded on 2 October 2001 as the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors and has grown from 27 inaugural members to a College of more than 400 doctors working in the field of aesthetics. To celebrate BCAM’s 20th anniversary year in 2021, we have spoken to some of its earliest members and those who have made significant contributions over the years, starting with founders Dr Patrick Bowler and Dr Rita Rakus.

Read our latest interview with Dr Patrick Bowler Founder & Fellow Member of BCAM

When Patrick Bowler embarked on a career in aesthetic medicine more than 30 years ago, he had no idea he was establishing himself as a pioneer and founding father of the fledgling specialty in the UK. 

Dr Bowler was looking for a new direction after becoming disenchanted with government policy around general practice. He was influenced by his dermatology background and the early non-surgical facial treatments that he noticed in his wife’s magazines.

He set up a clinic in a barn at home in 1987, offering injectables and facial treatments, and business boomed. He had already established himself as a supplier of facial creams and lotions and was soon overseeing clinics in Brentwood and London and travelling to Europe and the USA where aesthetic medicine was more advanced.

“Then I noticed an article in a magazine featuring Rita Rakus, promoting aesthetic treatments, so I contacted her. At the time, the GMC was talking about appraisals and revalidation. We were independent and working in a field not recognised by the GMC, so we met up and discussed what we could do,” he said.

The pair put an advert in Pulse magazine for a meeting at the Law Society on 2 October 2001. The event attracted 27 doctors with a shared interest in aesthetic medicine – and the British College of Aesthetic Medicine (BCAM) was born!

The group was initially called the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors (BACD) and soon had a flourishing membership with two key aims: education, developing treatment protocols and systems for appraisal and revalidation.

After initially working extensively with fillers, botulinum toxin became available and he quickly recognised this would be a very popular treatment option. He focused on less invasive treatments than traditional cosmetic surgery, seeing patients who weren’t the usual rich and famous clientele of plastic surgeons.

“The pace of change and innovation made it ever more interesting, treating people with a number of different possibilities. It was interesting and satisfying to see how grateful patients were for any improvements. Even at that time we recognised the importance of properly assessing people psychologically before administering treatments, and patient satisfaction was generally very high.”

Dr Bowler said it was “the start of the wave of media and public popularity” that culminated in him being interviewed on breakfast TV and being involved in the show ’10 Years Younger’ that launched on Channel 4 in 2004.

“Rita was excellent at getting journalists interested in what she was doing, and so it snowballed,” he said. So all this publicity benefited the BACD members providing credibility and increasing numbers of enquiries

Following the foundation of BACD, Dr Bowler said there were “lots of battles to be fought” but the issue of regulation didn’t raise its head for quite some time. Regional forums were established so doctors could consult experienced, like-minded practitioners in their own area for support and advice.

Dr Bowler said educational meetings were well supported, and the group was able to collect meaningful statistics to influence growth and innovation.

Dr Bowler, who holds the BCAM Fellowship, retired from medical practice five years ago but retains a strong interest in the aesthetics sector.

“I was fortunate enough to be involved in setting it up at the beginning, with the vision that aesthetic medicine would grow and develop,” he said.

Read our latest interview with Dr Rita Rakus Founder & Fellow Member of BCAM

When Rita Rakus came to the UK from Australia in 1990 after successfully co-founding a respected high-tech pathology laboratory, she found herself in the midst of the fledgling world of aesthetic medicine.

Dr Rakus began her career in aesthetics by assisting an eminent plastic surgeon in surgery and with early fillers and botulinum toxin injections, and she soon recognised the trends that were set to revolutionise the world of cosmetic treatments.

But while she was learning and innovating, she realised there was no formal training pathway or appraisal and revalidation route in aesthetic medicine – and that was a problem. It didn’t fall into any of the recognised categories, so she and fellow aesthetics pioneer Dr Patrick Bowler decided they needed to take action.

“I was always at the cutting edge, frequently going to the USA and seeing new machines and treatments. They have advanced dramatically over the years, but it’s so important to have really good training programmes too,” she said.

The two doctors met for coffee in London at the Langham Hotel and formulated a plan, literally on the back of a serviette, and the British College of Aesthetic Medicine (then called the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors) was born. The aim was to unite the growing number of doctors practicing aesthetic medicine, providing training and expert professional advice and a route to revalidation.

“When I first started, there was no-one you could talk to if you needed help or advice, it was a no-man’s land. Forming the association was very exciting, it came at the right moment when it was a virgin industry,” she said.

The association brought together doctors from across the UK who could share their expertise and experience as aesthetic treatments rapidly developed, combining science, psychology, and artistry. And Dr Rakus said it had gone from strength-to-strength…

“BCAM is best-placed to provide ongoing education and the best possible training because it has the highest membership criteria, it’s the crème de la crème of associations. Think of it like a Ferrari – would you rather have an F1 driver or a learner driver at the wheel?” she said.

Dr Rakus said the founder members of BCAM had all grown alongside the association, becoming the leading lights in the aesthetics sector.

“That’s the value of BCAM, it has made us leaders in our field and we have been able to share our expertise with others. It’s been a very exciting journey,” she said.

When the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors (BACD) became the British College of Aesthetic Medicine (BCAM)

At the Annual General Meeting on the 17th March 2012, the membership passed a series of resolutions reforming and restructuring the organisation to become the British College of Aesthetic Medicine. The changes would help bring to fruition the aspirations of the founders in the full recognition of Aesthetic Medicine, enabling it to take its rightful place as a medical speciality.