How to Choose a Plastic Surgeon


Plastic surgery can be life transforming. Research shows that a clear majority of cosmetic surgery patients experience long-term enhancement in appearance and self-confidence. On the other hand, ending up in the hands of an inexperienced surgeon increases your chances of a botched result that will require corrective surgery with significant added cost.

Carefully Research Your Options

What are your objectives in getting plastic surgery? Researching your surgical options at depth allows you to zero in on the procedure(s) and surgeons best suited to your needs.

  • Complete a thorough internet search. This is the easiest way to identify cosmetic surgeons in your area. Investigate all online sources of information to learn about their educational backgrounds, certifications, surgical specialties and other vital information.
  • Get recommendations from medical professionals. Getting personal recommendations from your network of friends is fine, but not remotely as valuable as the objective facts of a surgeon’s credentials. A better option is to contact your regular doctor(s) for their recommendations. Valuable leads can also come from a hospital staff. Be aware, however, that doctors will often refer you to plastic surgeons from within a limited professional circle. If your online and other research supports their recommendation, fine. If not, consider other options.
  • Assess the surgeon’s experience. It’s critical you feel completely confident about the surgeon’s abilities to perform your cosmetic surgery procedure. A surgeon with extensive experience knows how to deal with unexpected events during a surgery and can minimize possible complications. This results in a shorter post-procedure recovery period.
  • Determine a surgeon’s qualifications. Many state licensing boards list a surgeon’s educational background, licenses, insurance information, honors and awards, academic appointments, legal actions, and paid settlements. This critical information is readily available on your state’s medical board website.
  • Most importantly, ensure the surgeon is ABPS certified, the gold standard for cosmetic surgery. To verify a surgeon’s ABPS certification, go to the ABPS website and register for a free account. Once you’re finished, you can search their site to learn whether a surgeon is certified.
  • Visit the websites of your final surgeon candidates to get a general feel for their practices. A high-quality website often correlates with a practice’s reputability. Scrutinize their before and after pictures. Is the lighting the same from picture to picture? Are some of them cropped and others not?

If you are impressed with what you see on the internet, call the plastic surgeon’s office and speak to the Patient Coordinator. Ask initial questions about the cosmetic surgery procedure. Does this person seem engaged and supportive? Did they answer your questions with clarity, or were they somewhat evasive? If everything goes well, ask about coming in for an initial consultation.

Confirm ABPS Certification for Plastic Surgeons

Above all, ensure that the surgeons on your short list have been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). The American Board of Plastic Surgery is the only such board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialists (ABMS). You can go to their website to see if your candidate surgeons meet this essential criterion.

Surgeons certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) have had at least five years of residency training in general surgery, plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery. Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery is validated by written and oral examinations. Board-certified plastic surgeons are required to take continuing medical education courses and to take a written test every 10 years.

Avoid surgeons who practice beyond their scope of training

Unfortunately, current law allows any doctor to perform any cosmetic procedure, regardless of their medical specialty. Many doctors with general surgery or other medical training try to present themselves as plastic surgeons after taking a weekend seminar or several months of training in cosmetic procedures, at best. They are then legally compliant in opening a plastic surgery practice. Yet these brief crash courses in plastic surgery don’t qualify anyone to perform cosmetic procedures.

The Initial Consultation

First impressions count. Is the staff friendly and helpful? Are you provided materials that fully prepare you for the realities and possible risks of surgery and recovery? Are all fees are detailed in an inclusive quote?

In your initial surgical consultation, you will have an interactive dialogue in which the surgeon will ask you questions, with you asking them questions as well. This will give you a sure sense of whether your personalities are in sync. Is the surgeon personable, professional, and confident? Without a comfortable rapport, no matter how qualified the surgeon is, it’s best for you to explore other options.

It’s also important you choose a surgeon whose aesthetic sense appeals to you, Look at their before and after photos. Do you like what you see? Would you be pleased with similar results after your surgery?

What to ask a surgeon

  • How did you train in the procedure I am considering?
  • How long have you been performing plastic surgery? (Aesthetic refinement develops with years of experience and progressively better results).
  • How many times have you performed this type of procedure per month, per year?
  • What percentage of your practice does this account for? (Your plastic surgeon should seem passionate about the results they can achieve for you).
  • Ask for a detailed explanation of the before and after photographs to better understand the doctor’s approach, and what they propose for you. (Beware of photographs that have different lighting or are otherwise altered).
  • Ask if you can talk to patients who have had the same or similar procedures.
  • Ask about where the surgery is performed. Your doctor’s surgery center must be accredited for safety, either by the state where it is located, or by one of the three major accreditation bodies: American Association for Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAAPS), Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), and The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization (JCAHO).
  • Are there board-certified anesthesiologists on your team with access to the latest emergency equipment and anesthesia monitoring devices?
  • How do you stay current with newer and more advanced surgical techniques and procedures?

Watch out for the following red flags

  • The surgeon does not routinely perform the procedure you are considering.
  • The surgeon’s operating facility is not accredited.
  • The surgeon does not have hospital privileges. Even if you’re having a plastic surgery procedure at an outpatient clinic, it’s worth asking where the doctor has hospital privileges. This is because it’s important your surgeon be able to admit you to a hospital under his supervision in the event of complications.
  • The surgeon isn’t asking you important questions, e.g., he or she doesn’t ask for your medical history and fails to ascertain important details about your objectives.
  • The surgeon dismisses the risks of surgery or is not open to talking about possible complications.
  • The surgeon suggests procedures you didn’t ask for or procedures with benefits you don’t understand. For example, if you’re asking about rhinoplasty and the surgeon starts talking about liposuction, it’s probably best to move on. Unfortunately, money is a motivation for some surgeons.
  • The surgeon “guarantees” results, offers bargain fees, or other gimmicks.
  • The surgeon doesn’t provide details on your follow-up care. The surgery itself is not the end. A good surgeon needs to be actively involved in your recovery from beginning to final resolution.

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