So you’ve finally decided to get your nose straightened, your breasts enhanced, your face lifted, your lips plumped, or your tummy flattened, but you have no idea where to start? How do you know the important questions to ask? You have come to the right place! Our comprehensive guide will help you choose the very best plastic surgeon.
First, let’s understand the two types of plastic surgery – reconstructive and cosmetic (or aesthetic). Reconstructive plastic surgery is done to repair a physical abnormality that may have been caused by a congenital birth defect, a genetic anomaly, disease, or by a traumatic injury. Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, is done to reshape a part of the face or body with the single goal of improving one’s appearance.
An important thing to know is that any licensed physician can claim to be a plastic surgeon or to be “board certified” and can legally perform cosmetic surgery. That doesn’t mean he or she is properly trained or qualified. In fact, your board certified Ear, Nose and Throat doctor may also do cosmetic surgery. But would you want him or her to perform your breast augmentation or tummy tuck? Don’t be taken in by a doctor who is trying to boost his or her income by doing cosmetic surgeries without the proper credentials.
Some plastic surgeries are very invasive, like abdominoplasty and breast augmentation. If you don’t choose a competent surgeon you could suffer irreparable damage to your internal organs or muscles. Other surgeries, such as facelifts, require a delicate and skilled touch so as not to disfigure a part of your body that everyone can see, like your face. You’ll be altering your appearance for the rest of your life – don’t take this decision lightly.
We’ve all seen TV programs about the horror stories of patients who became the victims of poorly trained plastic surgeons. Don’t become another unwitting victim. Don’t simply open the phone book and select the first surgeon on the list. You have hundreds of resources at your fingertips to help you make the perfect choice. Use them! If you want your surgery done right, spend the time to do your homework and make the right choice.
Obviously there is never a 100% guarantee with anything in life but, if you follow our recommendations on how to select a great plastic surgeon, you will greatly improve your chances of getting excellent results.
1. NETWORK & MAKE A LIST OF GOOD CANDIDATES
Make a list of contact information for all of the plastic surgeons in your area. Start with the phone book. Use online plastic surgery directories to broaden your search. Now, Google each surgeon on the list (or use another Internet search engine). Whether you find glowing recommendations or horror stories and complaints, make notes.
Look outside your city too because the very best (and most cost-effective) surgeon available for the procedure you want may be a few hundred miles from home and you’ll want to factor this into your decision. The cost of your surgery from one region of the country to another can vary widely. For example, cosmetic surgery costs in rural Illinois will most likely be lower than in New York City, where rent and overhead are more expensive. If you have the ability to travel, you can potentially save a lot.
Did any of your friends have a procedure like the one you’re contemplating? Ask them for details about it and add this information to your list. Would they recommend their surgeon? Why? If the recommendations are favorable, make notes. Maybe someone had an unrelated procedure, such as reconstructive surgery after an injury. If the results were fantastic, the surgeon probably has the skills necessary to do a variety of other reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. While every surgery is unique and your results may be different from your friends’, you may be able to find a great plastic surgeon by networking with your friends.
Ask your family doctor for recommendations. He or she may have experience with plastic surgeons in your area and can give you a well-informed opinion. How many patients has he/she referred to this surgeon? Were the results good? Would he or she refer a family member to this plastic surgeon?
Call the hospital where you intend to have your surgery and ask for a list of the board-certified surgeons on staff who perform the procedure you want done. This list won’t offer you any information about the surgeon’s skill or qualifications, but you can use it in your decision-making process.
Have you seen ads on TV or on billboards for plastic surgery bargains? Competition for your cosmetic surgery dollars is fierce. Advertising can be deceptive, so don’t jump at the first one you see without proper research. Cost is a major factor for all of us, but not the only one. You can certainly add these doctors to your list, but don’t neglect thorough research. You should never sacrifice your health to save money.
Go through your list now and eliminate any doctors with less-than-glowing recommendations. Next, you can proceed to check out the credentials of the surgeons who remain on your list.
2. UNDERSTANDING MEDICAL DEGREES
In your search for qualified plastic surgeons you are bound to encounter two designations following the doctor’s name – M.D. and D.O. These are the only two types of “complete” physicians in the U.S. and they are licensed by specialty boards and states to perform surgery and prescribe medicine. They are alike in many ways, legally equivalent, and equally capable, but you should be aware of their different approaches to health care.
An M.D. is a Doctor of Medicine. He or she has attended medical school for four years and learned conventional, or “allopathic”, medicine. Allopathic medicine tends to be focused on treating individual symptoms rather than the body as a whole. Treatment is usually aimed at counteracting specific problems with “traditional” methods, although doctors today have access to a wide range of alternative approaches to treatment.
The other designation is a D.O. or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. He or she has also attended medical school for four years. In addition to training in allopathic medicine, a D.O. also learns “holistic” medicine which is an approach best described as treating the patient as a whole person, or looking at physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health to determine the underlying causes of illness.
One important consideration is that Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine in other countries, such as the U.K., may not be fully trained physicians as they are in the U.S. The D.O.’s practice in other countries may be more limited in scope, similar to a chiropractor. If you are considering going abroad for cosmetic surgery (a.k.a. “medical tourism”), be sure to understand the differences in physician credentialing.
In your research, consider that each of these doctors will offer you different approaches to your medical care and you should choose the one that makes you the most comfortable.
3. INVESTIGATE CREDENTIALS
Be diligent about this step. Any doctor can tell you he or she is board certified. It may or may not be true. Or, the doctor may be board certified as an OB-GYN but not in plastic surgery. The Internet has opened up a world of valuable information. You have no excuse for not taking advantage of this research tool!
You will probably want a board certified plastic surgeon. To become board certified, a doctor must meet rigorous education and training requirements. The doctor must have graduated from an accredited medical school and most boards require a minimum amount of additional training, some of it devoted to plastic surgery. The doctor must pass extensive examinations and complete ongoing education and training to maintain his or her certification. While there are never any guarantees, a board certified plastic surgeon will improve your odds for a good outcome. The bottom line is that your outcome will be based on whoever performs the surgery.
To verify your surgeon’s credentials, first check with the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) at https://www.abplsurg.org. You may encounter other specialty boards during your research but the ABPS is the only Board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties to certify physicians in the plastic surgery specialty. And keep in mind that it is possible to be certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties, but in a completely different specialty unrelated to plastic surgery. Make sure you know which board granted certification!
Next, you should check to see if the surgeon was invited to be a member of either the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) at http://www.plasticsurgery.org/ or the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) at http://www.surgery.org/. Both of these societies require the surgeon to be certified by the ABPS. One major advantage of choosing an ASPS or ASAPS member is that the surgeon is required to perform surgery in an accredited, licensed, or Medicare-certified facility. Whether your procedure is done in a hospital, an ambulatory surgical center or in the doctor’s office, you will surely benefit from the higher safety standards of an accredited facility.
Does the surgeon have admitting privileges at the hospital of your choice for the exact procedure you want performed? Admitting privileges mean that the doctor has been granted permission to admit patients to a hospital to provide specific treatment and services. Hospitals thoroughly review the training and credentials of physicians before granting them these privileges. Be sure you know if the physician has admitting privileges for the type of surgery you need.
4. GET COMFORTABLE WITH THE DOCTOR
You should now have enough information to whittle down your list to about 10 highly qualified surgeons. The next step should be to see how comfortable you are with each of them.
One way to do this is to visit the website of each physician on your list. There may be information about the surgeon, what types of procedures he or she specializes in, and before and after photos of former patients. This may give you a general sense about the physician and the practice.
If you have any questions about your procedure, call the office and ask the Patient Coordinator for information. Is the person helpful? Did they answer all of your questions or were they evasive? If you are comfortable so far, ask if they offer a free initial consultation. (Not all of them do, and this is not a good reason to remove them from your list.)
Free or not, make an appointment for a consultation with every one of your top choices. Make no commitments until you have given each one your full attention. Take a list of questions you want answered. Talk about your goals for your treatment. Discuss whether you are a good candidate for surgery and what risks may be involved. Discuss the cost and alternatives.
Ask to see before and after photos of patients who had the same procedure you are researching. This will give you an idea of what you can expect. The after photos should look better than the before photos, but the differences should not be overly dramatic. Be sure the lighting and angle of the before and after photos are similar. Ask to see photos where everything went well as well as for challenging cases. By studying these photos, you should get a feel for the surgeon’s skill.
Get a feel for your surroundings. Is everything spic-and-span? Are the doctor and the staff helpful and knowledgeable? Do they welcome questions about their qualifications and experience? Are they arrogant or impatient? Are they trying to pressure you into extra procedures you may not need? Are they willing to discuss payment options?
Try to spend at least 30 minutes with the plastic surgeon so you can gain a complete understanding about everything involved with the surgery. Don’t be shy about asking questions. This could be one of the most important decisions you ever make about your body and your health. If the doctor rushes you, remember that he or she may also rush your surgery or your after-care.
Make notes immediately after you leave each consultation while your opinions are fresh in your mind.
5. MAKE YOUR DECISION
The best thing to do now is give yourself a break and forget about plastic surgery for a little while. After a few days, look back at your notes and think about what you learned. Which surgeon gave you the most information, the most positive vibe, and made you the most comfortable? Never ignore your intuition!
The time you spend on this entire research process will pay off in the long run. After all, shouldn’t we spend at least as much time checking into the person we intend to entrust with our plastic surgery as we would if we were looking for a new car?
At this point, you should be able to make your well-educated choice and be confident that you are selecting the very best plastic surgeon!