How Do You Choose a Plastic Surgeon?

By Robert Clement, M.D. – October 25, 2012

In the past, finding a plastic surgeon was not so much of a problem. But in the current environment, with changes in medical reimbursements and decreased payment from insurance companies, multiple other physicians are working in the cosmetic field. However, these doctors are not necessarily plastic surgeons. To be recognized as a plastic surgeon by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a physician must have completed medical school, then either a general surgery residency or other surgical residency (like ear, nose, and throat) before going into a plastic surgery residency. It usually takes nine to 12 years after college to complete this training. Having completed the training, the physician must then pass a written examination approximately a year after entering practice followed by an oral exam, where the physician presents cases while his or her examiners may ask any question related to plastic surgery. After passing both these exams, the physician is then certified as a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. This is the only plastic surgery board that is recognized by the American Medical Association.There are multiple facets to plastic surgery. These include trauma and reconstructive surgery, post cancer, reconstructive hand surgery, and, of course, cosmetic surgery. The cosmetic area is where other practitioners are coming in with minimal to no plastic surgery training.

Any medical doctor can perform plastic surgery or call himself a plastic surgeon regardless of his training. For example, a family practitioner can legally do a facelift with no surgical training for that operation. This goes to the our government’s Fair Trade Commission, which feels that limiting these people will stem competition and, therefore, raise the price of medicine. I think this is an absurd idea that has worked to the detriment of patients. We, as certified plastic surgeons, feel that most of these physicians do not have adequate surgical training to perform the cosmetic procedures that we perform. As one of my colleagues has said, "If your air conditioning system went out, you would probably not call a plumber to fix the problem." This may be a moderate oversimplification, but there is some rationality to this thinking.

It would be wonderful if board certification gave the surgeon the ultimate skill, insight, and three-dimensional concepts to perform perfect plastic surgery. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. As with any specialty, there are certain people who can perform procedures better than others. Therefore, how do you find the perfect plastic surgeon for you? I suggest that you get names of plastic surgeons from your friends who have had surgery and who are happy; further, get feedback even from those who were unhappy with their physicians so you can stay away from that particular doctor. Talk to a family practitioner or physician whom you know in the community, as he or she will have a good idea as to the reputation of various plastic surgeons. Then, I think a very reasonable thing to do is to have two to three consultations with different plastic surgeons. This gives you the ability to evaluate their skills by seeing their pictures, by testing your comfort with their personalities, and by questioning them to see if you are both on the same page as to what you want to accomplish. I feel it is extremely important that you feel comfortable with your plastic surgeon because you are putting a lot of faith in his hands and his expertise.

In summary, ask your friends, ask your doctor, look at the results that your friends have gotten, and then choose the surgeon who you have visited with and feel the most comfortable with to perform your surgery.


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