Your selection of a surgeon is as important as your decision to undergo cosmetic surgery. Your results will be directly proportional to the thoroughness of your search. You probably have lots of questions, but how can you be sure you are asking all the important questions? Most patients don’t know what they don’t know, so there is little sense of context. Emphasis on the need for reviewing qualifications, experience, training, post-operative photography and testimonials combined with open and honest discussions with the surgeon are necessary steps toward selecting the best surgeon for you. Toward that end we offer the following guidelines to help you get the most out of every consultation.
DID YOU KNOW ANY LICENSED MEDICAL DOCTOR CAN LEGALLY PERFORM COSMETIC SURGERY?
All surgeons are not created equal. Today’s marketplace has seen an influx of surgeons wanting to supplement their practices with cosmetic cases.The prospective patient must proceed with caution. Minimal criteria are: graduation from a recognized school of medicine, completion of an accredited residency, licensure as a physician and surgeon in the state, and Board Certification in one of the four specialties that legitimately and routinely perform cosmetic procedures within their defined scope of practice (dermatology, head and neck surgery, ophthalmology and/or plastic surgery.)
In order to perform cosmetic procedures at the highest level, a surgeon must complete at least a decade (10 years) of additional specialized training after college. Some have completed fellowships in their areas of interest. These surgeons focus their practices specifically on cosmetic and aesthetic surgery. Furthermore, they might sub-specialize in three or four procedures.
Ask about subspecialty training and find out what percentage of the practice is dedicated to reconstructive vs. cosmetic. Discover which procedures represent the majority of the surgeon’s cases.
BOARD CERTIFICATION BY THE PROPER BOARD
A plastic surgeon should be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. This is the only plastic surgery board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. You can check to confirm that your surgeon has had this extensive and unique training in plastic surgery and successfully passed the exams by checking with the American Board of Plastic Surgery at 215-587-9322.
Keep in mind that while this is a necessary credential, it will not guarantee that your particular surgeon will have the skill level to provide you with the results you want. Remember too, that there are many talented surgeons certified by other specialty boards whom you may feel a special connection. Such surgeons may have excellent surgical skills and may be able to provide you with quality results. Some specialties you can expect to encounter during your search include: Dermatology, Otolaryngology (head and neck,) Ophthalmology (eye and facial) and Plastic Surgery (facial, body, reconstructive.)
Be sure he or she is board certified in the specialty specifically addressing the procedure in which you are interested.
PLASTIC SURGERY FELLOWSHIP IS NOT ABOUT LIKEABILITY
A “fellowship” is an elite qualification that only a small percentage of surgeons performing cosmetic surgery can claim. It signifies a tremendous depth of knowledge in a particular arena. Only board certified surgeons are eligible for membership. Serving a fellowship means several intense years of focused training and education in a particular area of specialization. Fellowship in the American College of Surgeons is denoted by the initials “FACS” after the doctor’s name and “MD.”
EVALUATING PLASTIC SURGERY REFERRAL SOURCES
Consulting with surgeons that have been recommended to you by satisfied patients is a great way to start. However, keep in mind your desired result may differ from theirs. Anatomy will influence the result. In addition, are you considering the exact same procedure? Don’t be too quick to draw a conclusion if your friend had a fabulous facelift, but you want liposuction. These are two very different procedures. Even if you are interested in the same procedure, you must still be diligent in discussing your particular options with the surgeon she used because of the individual nature of each cosmetic surgery. Be cautious if you are “guaranteed” outstanding results, easy recovery or the “lowest price.”
Excellent sources of referral are other medical personnel: doctors, nurses, anesthesia specialists, surgeons etc. A doctor’s reputation is everything and if a certain plastic surgeon is one other surgeons would let operate on their own family members—that is the best referral.
KNOWING HOW TO EVALUATE PLASTIC SURGERY BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS
The surgeon’s “before and after” album is a good representation of what you might expect. The “after” should look better, but not too different or exaggerated. Study the artistry and style—every surgeon is unique. Be certain both photos have the same lighting, angle, and profile. Hair, makeup and overall expression should be similar if you are studying the face. Beware of internet photography as it can easily be altered.
Ask to see good results, excellent results and challenging cases.
Be absolutely sure your surgeon has privileges in a nearby hospital to do the procedures you are considering. In the majority of cases, your operation will take place in a surgery center—either in an off-site facility, or within the doctor’s office. However, in the event you have a complication and need to be hospitalized this is critical. Privileges in a hospital are granted only after the facility has verified the training and experience requirements for the privileges requested. It provides an additional screening mechanism for your surgeon’s credentials. Your surgeon’s surgery center must be accredited for safety. There are three accreditation bodies:
- American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Plastic Surgery Facilities (AAAAPS) 847-949-6058
- Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) 847-676-9610
- The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization (JCAHO) 630-792-5800.
Find out where the surgery will take place, what accreditation it carries and who will be administering anesthesia.
Some people want to combine their cosmetic desires with an exotic destination. Many of these surgeons promise lower fees and a luxury setting. Be wary of leaving the protection of U.S. standards behind. Once you are home, any complications will have to be treated and any savings you realized will disappear along with the “vacation.”
MAKING A CONNECTION
During your consultation be sure you take enough time to determine if there is a positive connection between you and the surgeon. Don’t ignore your intuition. If you are comfortable, not rushed, and feel the surgeon answered your questions honestly and meticulously, you are probably in good hands. Be sure there is a confidence level that he or she has a clear vision of what you want and can perform that specific procedure. A top-notch staff is a good indication that the surgeon understands the importance of a high standard of care.
BEING A “PATIENT” PATIENT
Most cosmetic procedures are elective, not emergencies, so don’t rush. Time spent learning about your provider and options will pay great dividends in the long term. You should meet with a number of different board certified plastic surgeons for the purpose of hearing their recommendations of surgical and non-surgical alternatives. The surgeon may ask you to consider different or additional procedures than you originally intended. A good surgeon will tell you what can and cannot be achieved in accordance with your age, skin, body type, medical history and the limits of technology. If you are talking with a surgeon you trust, he or she should be able to explain why these procedures will enhance your overall result.
Consult with the one you ultimately choose as many times as necessary to feel comfortable with your decision. Take the advice seriously if more than one surgeon feels the risks of the surgery you are requesting outweighs the benefits.