Perhaps no aspect of your decision for cosmetic surgery is more critical than choosing the right doctor to perform the procedure. Despite the fact that cosmetic surgery is more predictable than ever before, it is still a serious undertaking. You need to do the proper research and have all the facts to make an informed choice.

Cosmetic surgery is a multi-faceted specialty involving not only cosmetic surgery specialists, but also other specialists who bring their talents and training to the field of cosmetic surgery. This multitude of experience and training offers the highest quality of patient care for the specific procedure in which you are interested — as no one primary medical background exclusively offers the best training for every cosmetic surgery procedure.

How can you find a well trained, qualified, experienced doctor who has specific training related to your procedure? To help give you guidance, the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, the nation’s largest interdisciplinary medical organization devoted exclusively to cosmetic surgery, has prepared guidelines with points to consider to help you make an informed choice. This chapter summarizes those guidelines.

Qualified cosmetic surgeons will welcome your questions about their background and be pleased that you are concerned enough to ask. Here are guidelines to assist you in selecting a qualified cosmetic surgeon

• Check the surgical experience of the surgeon you are considering. Does he or she specialize in the procedure(s) in which you are interested?

• Does the surgeon truly specialize in cosmetic surgery or is it only a small part of his practice? Often surgeons who advertise themselves as cosmetic surgeons are often actually specialists in other fields but wish to emphasize or build their cosmetic surgery practice.

• How many procedures of this kind has the doctor done, and for how long has he done them?

• How many is the doctor currently performing per year?

• Before-and-after photographs can give you some indication of the surgeon’s ability, although you must realize that they cannot be construed to guarantee a result that you will achieve. Each patient is different!

• Make sure you are comfortable with the personal rapport between you and your surgeon. In addition, you should feel at ease with the staff. You should always feel that your concerns are being addressed. Do not be satisfied with an incomplete answer from anyone.

CHECKING CREDENTIALS

It is important to ask your doctor about his or her credentials and study them carefully. Membership in professional organizations is one of the many yardsticks in determining a surgeon’s qualifications. Of the professional societies, some are more specialized than others and have more stringent requirements than others. Check your doctor’s professional society affiliation and call the society to find out what the requirements are for membership.

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery is the nation’s largest interdisciplinary medical organization that is exclusively devoted to cosmetic surgery. Its member cosmetic surgeons are dedicated to advancing the art and science of cosmetic surgery and the highest standards of patient welfare and surgical excellence.

There are many certifying boards that claim that their members have special qualifications in cosmetic surgery. Several of these, such as the American Board of Plastic Surgery, the American Board of Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology do include aspects of cosmetic surgery in their qualifying examination, but none requires any special experience. Only one board — the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, exclusively examines in the field of cosmetic surgery.

My certification by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, which I achieved in 1985, required that a surgeon:

1. Be board certified in an original surgical specialty recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. (It should be again be emphasized that no ABMS board actually certifies in the field of cosmetic surgery)

2. Have been in the practice of cosmetic surgery for the past five years

3. Have performed no fewer than 1,000 cosmetic surgical procedures

4. Have performed a minimum of 200 documented cosmetic procedures in the year leading to certification

5. Pass a stringent two-day oral and written examination

6. Be of good moral character.

Some doctors have been critical of the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, claiming that it is not a member of the American Board of Medical Specialties. (ABMS) There are many reputable Boards that are not members of this organization which does not offer membership to Boards that overlap its current member organizations. The Texas Medical Board has evaluated the requirements of the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery and recognized it as equivalent to an ABMS member Board

THE CONSULTATION

The consultation is an opportunity for both you and the cosmetic surgeon to meet and discuss your interests in cosmetic surgery. This will give you an opportunity to decide if this is the person you want to choose for your operation. You will not only evaluate his skills and training but also his personal style and attitudes. Is this a person with whom you will feel comfortable? You can also discuss costs and have some of your specific questions about the procedure answered.

WHAT TO ASK – DON’T BE SHY

Be prepared to ask all the questions you want during the consultation. Just like preparing a speech, you may even want to write down the questions you have so you don’t forget them. I can’t tell you how often patients come in for consultation and tell us they had questions they wanted to ask but simply forgot them when they came in.

You should understand all aspects of the procedure. Be sure the doctor explains everything in layman’s terms – not too much medical jargon that you don’t understand. The doctor should be candid with you about the risks of this procedure, as well as possible other outcomes and what happens if all does not go as planned. That way, you can make an informed choice.

Depending on what feature you are hoping to change, the doctor may suggest that an additional procedure be performed in conjunction with the original procedure to achieve the true desired look. These suggestions should not, however, be pressuring comments. If the doctor is pushing you in a direction that is uncomfortable to you, look for someone else.

As mentioned, qualified cosmetic surgeons will welcome your questions about their background. Questions about costs and policies should also be freely discussed.

THE DECISION IS YOURS

Now that you’ve gotten the referrals, done your research, interviewed your candidates and compared your notes, you’ll likely feel happier about your decision and your outcome. You’ve done your work and now it’s time to let the cosmetic surgeon do his.

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS) is an accredited council of professionals devoted to post-graduate medical and educational opportunities in the field of cosmetic surgery. It is the nation’s largest interdisciplinary medical association that exclusively devotes it educational efforts to cosmetic surgery.