If I were to ask you if you’d prefer to have a plastic surgeon perform your plastic (cosmetic) surgery, I’m certain the answer would be a definitive “Yes!”. After all, what kind of surgeon would you choose to do your knee replacement surgery? An orthopedic surgeon, of course. Open heart surgery? A cardiac surgeon!
It seems deceptively easy but here’s the rub: many physicians perform cosmetic (plastic) surgery that aren’t plastic surgeons. I’m sure you can figure out the motivation. The simple truth is there are only about 6,000 board certified plastic surgeons in the entire USA. The training is highly competitive, grueling, and takes a minimum of 6 years of surgical training following medical school. Then you must pass a rigorous peer review process as well as a comprehensive written and oral examination that takes years to complete after your surgical training.
However, there is a shortcut! Non-plastic surgeons who have little to no formal surgical training can simply decide to perform cosmetic surgery since the government fails to regulate or control it. The public isn’t protected so buyer beware.
So how can you become an educated consumer? Here are my pearls when considering cosmetic or plastic surgery.
- Make sure your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, Inc. There are other boards with similar sounding names designed to intentionally mislead and misinform the public. This is the only recognized board that certifies surgeons in cosmetic and plastic surgery of the entire body. Ask your surgeon to see his/her board certificate. You can check a surgeon’s credentials online at www.abms.org.
- Your surgeon should have privileges to perform your surgery in a local, accredited hospital not just a surgery center or his/her office. If you have a complication your surgeon must be able to care for you in a local hospital if necessary. Hospitals usually have strict peer review processes. If your surgeon does not have privileges to perform your outpatient procedure in a local hospital that is a red flag.
- Your plastic surgeon should also be a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. These societies require certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and adherence to a strict set of guidelines designed to create ethical and safe plastic surgery. The websites to check out if your prospective surgeon is a member are ASPS and ASAPS.
- Experience and training matter. This is because it takes years in practice to become an exceptional cosmetic plastic surgeon. Do you think the outcome of the failed US Airways flight that was safely landed in the Hudson River was the result of a highly experienced, senior airline captain? The same reasoning applies to choosing your plastic surgeon.
- A personal connection with your surgeon and his/her staff is critical. You need to feel that your concerns and desires are heard and addressed.
- Before & after photos on websites. This allows you to critically review the work of each surgeon from an aesthetic standpoint. The more cases you see on a website then the more experience your surgeon has in that area (probably). I’ve listed this last as it’s the least important of my pearls for prospective patients for many reasons. It is sometimes difficult to obtain consent from patients as this information is displayed in the public domain. Some before and after images are not consistent in patient lighting and positioning. Results may be misleading and outcomes not truly related to surgical technique.