Northern Nurse Practitioners have been a mainstay in dermatology in the north country since 2004. Formerly in Black River, the offices are now located in the City of Watertown on outer Washington Street. NNY Business sat down with Family Nurse Practitioner Catherine M. O’Brien, and Cosmetic Consultant Jennifer R. Connor to talk to them about some of their inspirations, products and services they offer, and so much more.
What made you want to get into dermatology back in 1999?
CATHERINE: Oh, that is a long story. Basically, I was a NICU nurse and I took my first job in primary care and absolutely hated it. I did a blind interview for dermatology and I took the job and the rest is history. I love love love what I do 23 years later.
What are some of the services you offer?
CATHERINE: We have so we have a whole dermatology side that does skin cancer screening, acne, psoriasis rashes, from birth to death, all ages. And then another side is our aethestic side. On the aesthetic side we do a lot of different services. We have Botox and we have fillers. We have a new microneedling machine, Morpheus, that gives us some radio frequency. We do IV drips for nutrition, and that’s really been fun. We have chemical peels and lady nail wellness, female, and young female wellness with our intima for painful intercourse, and vaginal dryness.
JENNIFER: We also have bacteria removal and laser hair removal. We treat pigmentation vascular hair we do sclerotherapy so spider veins on the legs we can do vascular in the face (cherry angiomas.) We also do PRP for hair restoration. Keravive to help with hair restoration, hydration, dermaplaning.
Have you heard from people how painful tattoo removal is?
CATHERINE: It’s pretty painful. We do have a machine now that’s called a Zimmer that blows really cold air. And then we also have nitrous oxide and oxygen. So they can take a little bit of that. And it’s the laughing gas. And that seems to make people a little more comfortable.
What encompasses being a nurse practitioner?
CATHERINE: A nurse practitioner has a master’s degree in nursing, and there’s nine different tracks of nurse practitioner from women’s health, to family, pediatrics, neonatal and a couple more. You get your bachelor’s, you go on for your masters and then to specialize you have to have someone train you. So I worked with Dr. Lewis for five years and she trained me during that time. And then, as I opened my own practice I just have continued to learn.
What made you want to bring the northern nurse practitioners to the north country?
CATHERINE: When I was working for Dr. Lewis, she closed her practice. And when I started interviewing for other practices, the one that was local wanted to use me to wind their career down. I already had a panel of patients that I wanted to keep, and I loved them, I’d had them for five years and I didn’t want to give them up. So, I just started researching and called my friend Joan Hawthorne and said, “Come on, we can do this.” It turned out to be a great thing. Many years it was just Joan and I serving the north country. Now it’s a little bit different because there’s so many of us but they didn’t have to travel to Syracuse. They could come and see us locally. Maybe they went to Syracuse for surgery, maybe they didn’t. So it’s really about my patients in the community.
What is your favorite part of the job?
CATHERINE: My patients. I love my patients. I have patients who’ve been with me for since 2004, or even 1999. When they come I take pictures of them with me. And when this is over I’m going to make a collage of all of my patients because it’s been an honor. I’m very humbled. It’s not about money. I just have this passionate calling to help people.
What do you what do you consider to be the most challenging part of your job?
CATHERINE: Human resources, taking care of my employees.
So, you find, personally, that it’s more fun and enjoyable to help the patients and the business side is not so much fun?
CATHERINE: That is correct. I never envisioned it to be this. When Joan retired I couldn’t replace her with one person. I had to have two to see patients at the speed that we’ve seen them. And then they got really busy. So I needed a third. And then they got really busy so again I needed a fourth then here.
What is the difference between the two sides?
CATHERINE: There is the aesthetic and the cosmetic side. So people pay for out of their pockets for the cosmetic, it’s cosmetics for beautification mostly. Our vaginal services isn’t so much for beautification, but it does help women. Women who have survived breast cancer have vaginal dryness. Older women as they get older, it’s many times they have painful intercourse because of the dryness and one of our lasers really has done a nice job changing women’s lives. My pico takes my tattoos off and I have a sister who has stage four breast cancer. So I reached out to Dr. Budnick, at the radiology department and any women who has had radiation for breast cancer, I will take their tattoo markings off for free. My other side, obviously, is insurance driven. People come with their insurance and it’s more medical based.
Who can benefit from both the medical side and the cosmetic side?
JENNIFER: Everybody with skin. Age wise, it doesn’t matter. Sex, it does not matter. The skin is an organ and everybody should be aware of that and be preventative. And then they either detect things that need medical attention, or those patients will express something cosmetically that have toiled them for years or young children with acne or young little girls that have a little bit too much testosterone, and they have some facial hair and they don’t want to be bullied in school. Their moms can bring them over here and we can remove that hair.
Have you thought about adding more medical and cosmetic offices outside these two?
CATHERINE: I will continue to grow as needed.
What feedback have you received from the community about providing these services?
CATHERINE: People love this side. They love both sides. If you ask the community, I don’t like to talk about myself, but they love me. I have a man here, who goes to Florida and when he came back last spring, he said, “Oh, my God, I was at a party in the villages, and what do we talk about? You” I was their topic of conversation. And then the cosmetic side, we’ve heard great feedback that it is a beautiful space. We’ve heard that we were waiting for something like this to come to Watertown.
JENNIFER: They love the hospitality. They love the customer care. They love the services. They love all of it.
What does the feedback you mean to you?
CATHERINE: I’m truly humbled. I really am. I don’t say it much but I’m super proud of myself. I don’t talk about that because it’s not about me. My biological son is incredibly proud of me. When I met his fiance’s parents for the first time, her mom said, ‘Well, I was so excited to meet you because Patrick does nothing but talk about how great you are in what you’ve done in your life.’
You have products listed on your website such as PCA, and SkinCeuticals. What are those?
CATHERINE: Those are our product lines. We have three product lines that we use for skincare. We’re going to add a local company that is also organic based.
Why is skincare so important?
CATHERINE: For one, it’s the largest organ of the body, and you only get one. Skin cancer, if caught early and detected, can be treated and cured. When we let things go, it makes it very difficult to treat in our squamous cells, if our melanomas are left too long treatments are limited. So screening for your skin cancers, and like Jen said, you remember being a teenager how awful that was, and having acne. That’s a big deal.
JENNIFER: If you can be proactive and preventative and start treating you have saved that human being a lifetime full of pitted acne scarring. But it’ll never be like if you’ve never had it and your skin will never go back to the way it could have been. So preventative is key in anything in everything.
CATHERINE: Psoriasis is a probably a very large untreated diagnosis. And I’m going to give kudos to the primary cares because they don’t have time, they’re taking care of people’s hearts and their lungs and their migraines and their back pain or whatever. So the last thing they can really address is skin. So I think there’s a lot of people out there with psoriasis who don’t get treatment or get very little treatment. And that also can be a very devastating type of disease.
How can people reach out to you?
CATHERINE: Social media, we’re on Facebook and Instagram, and Tiktok. Calling our direct line but our lines are busy. My staff is busy those phones ring from the minute we come to the minute we leave and people do get put on hold just because of that. But somebody always gets back to them if they leave a message.
What can people expect when they come in?
JENNIFER: A memorable experience.
CATHERINE: They can expect excellent customer service. They can expect that they’re a person here. I do not cut corners.
JENNIFER: She always errs on the side of caution.
CATHERINE: I don’t worry about what other people in the community are doing and I don’t really care what other people think about me. You know, we’ve got a whole new wave of new doctors. I have to prove myself again. I’m okay with that.
Have you guys always been in this location?
CATHERINE: No. We were over quietly doing our thing in Black River minding my business. Nobody even knew us. We were there from 2004 - 2020.
Did you offer both the cosmetic and the medical?
CATHERINE: Yes. Just before we came over here, we had started it. So we’re about four years into this.
Has COVID impacted anything at all with you guys?
CATHERINE: I think COVID initially impacted us for a very short time. It shut our spa down completely. People were afraid to come out for appointments. But it didn’t last very long. I think the hardest thing for us is you don’t get to see people’s faces anymore. Well, I do because I have to take your mask off to see your face, but nobody else gets to see people’s faces.
What is the misconception about skincare that irks you?
CATHERINE: I really think there’s people out there still who believe that tanning beds are okay. And that not wearing sunscreen is be okay. But when I see a 35 year old, who’s the age of my son have a stage four melanoma, it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart. And was she going to get it anyway? I don’t know, but you can prevent some of this if you just take care of your skin.
Who is your overall clientele?
CATHERINE: On the medical side, it really is birth to death. I have a large population of I would say 40 to 104.
Can you take me through a little bit about what the IVs are about?
CATHERINE: We take our IV bag and we infuse different vitamins to help with different things. We have like a get up and go, we have one that the vitamins are geared towards immunity. And people come in, we put an IV in and it runs over about 30 minutes. They leave, they feel fantastic, for the next two or three or four days. You could have it as much as twice a week. Most people are doing it about once a month.
JENNIFER: However, we have a handful of patients that are either getting chemo or radiation.
CATHERINE: Like one of my brothers had radiation last summer, on his neck and he came twice a week. We didn’t always put vitamins in and sometimes just gave him fluids.
How much do the IVs cost?
CATHERINE: $175 To $225.