How Do I Choose a Plastic Surgeon?
Here you'll find information on:
- What does it mean to be a board-certified plastic surgeon?
- Importance of board certification
- Understanding designations: MD, DO, FACS, medical training
- Society and board memberships
- Plastic surgery-related boards
- Verifying credentials
When choosing a plastic surgeon, you need to consider a number of factors. Medical training and surgical experience are primary indicators of the surgeon's qualifications.
Body procedures such as breast augmentation and abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) require a long time in surgery and are very invasive. Major organs and muscle groups are affected by these procedures and great care must be taken to perform them safely and effectively.
Board certification is another important criterion. No single factor can guarantee you the best doctor for a specific procedure. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which surgeon is best for your specific goals and expectations.
What Does it Mean to Be a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon?
Board certification can be a very confusing issue. Just open the yellow pages or a view newspaper advertisement and you'll see plastic surgeons promoting all kinds of society memberships and board certifications. So, how do you make sense of it all?
All certifying boards require different amounts of surgical training and experience, and you should be aware of these different requirements. In other words, all board-certified physicians are not trained equally for certain cosmetic surgery procedures. (An important note is that medical societies do not grant board membership.)
Membership in a society or board-certification doesn't guarantees a successful outcome. But, some certifying boards do require extensive medical training and experience, such as the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Patients can be confident that physicians certified by these boards do have specific and rigorous surgical education and training.
But in the world of plastic surgery, where many of the procedures are performed in the surgeon's office, it is relatively easy for a physician to give the impression of a "qualified plastic surgeon." So it is very important that you learn about the doctor's education, training, certification, and experience in order to make the best choice.
The Importance of Board Certification
The popularity of plastic surgery is soaring and more and more doctors are trying to meet the demand for this specialty that has become an integral part of mainstream medicine. Any licensed physician can call himself or herself a plastic surgeon, so the importance of finding a properly trained and certified provider is paramount. Choosing a doctor who's a certified member of an accredited board is the first step in ensuring quality care and outcomes.
In plastic surgery, where many of the procedures are performed in the surgeon's office, it is relatively easy for a physician to give the impression of a "qualified plastic surgeon." For example, the doctor may be board certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties, but not certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. The laws requiring disclosure of specific credentials in advertisements or brochures vary among states. So, while a doctor may be listed in the yellow pages as a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon the information may not reveal which board granted the certification. It's important, then, that you learn about the doctor's education, training, certification, and experience to make the best choice.
Previously, once a physician became "board certified," the physician was certified for life. Now, due to new developments in medical technology, the certifying boards are requiring physicians to periodically recertify in order to ensure the physician's training is up to date.
Board certification provides no guarantee that you will obtain good results from the cosmetic plastic surgery procedure or that there will be no complications. But you can be sure that a board-certified plastic surgeon has the right training and experience. The surgeon's training and skill play a major role in plastic surgery results. As in any profession, some practitioners are better than others. In addition to training and board certification, find out how well the surgeon has performed in the past. You can do this by viewing before-and-after photos of previous patients and by word-of-mouth referrals from other patients.
Understanding Designations: MD, DO, FACS, Medical Training
Two types of medical schools and medical degrees are available:
- Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree: A doctor of medicine attends a four-year medical school and learns allopathic or traditional medical theory and practice. In traditional medical practice, diseases and health are evaluated and treated based primarily on symptoms or attributes associated specifically with the health condition.
- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree: A doctor of osteopathy attends a four-year osteopathic school and learns holistic medicine as well as traditional medicine. The focus of holistic medicine is evaluating illnesses and health in the context of the "whole patient."
The curricula of both schools are nearly identical. State licensing agencies and most hospitals and residency programs recognize the degrees as equivalent. In other words, osteopathic doctors are legally and professionally equivalent to medical doctors.
In order to become a physician, each student must complete four years of undergraduate training, four years of medical school, and additional years of internship and residency. During the period of internship, they work with patients under the supervision of physicians in many areas including internal medicine, psychiatry, gynecology, and surgery. Many MDs receive graduate medical education in a particular specialty through a paid residency that they complete in a hospital. Many DOs participate in a 12-month internship and a residency that may extend into six years.
To be licensed in the United States, physicians must graduate from an accredited medical school, pass a rigorous examination, and receive one to seven years of graduate education, depending upon their specialty. In order to receive board certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or American Osteopathic Association (AOA), the physician must pass another examination within two years of practice. Some doctors become Fellows of the American College of Surgeons (FACS), meaning that the doctor's education, training, competence, and ethical conduct has passed an intensive assessment consistent with the standards of the College of Surgeons. The doctor may also complete more training in a subspecialty.
Society and Board Memberships
Membership in a society or certification by a specific board provides no guarantees of a successful outcome. But some certifying boards do require extensive medical training and experience, such as the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and you can be confident that physicians certified by these boards do have specific and rigorous surgical education and training. All certifying boards require different amounts of surgical training and experience, and you should be aware of these different requirements. In other words, all board-certified physicians are not trained equally for certain cosmetic surgery procedures.
An important note is that medical societies do not grant board membership. However, in order for a doctor to obtain membership in certain societies such as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, they must be invited to participate. In order to maintain certain memberships, the doctor must complete a specific number of continuing education hours each year, focusing on new procedures, patient safety, and other ever-changing areas in plastic surgery.
Plastic Surgery Related Boards
Three primary boards are relevant to plastic surgery:
- The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) certifies physicians in plastic surgery of the entire body, including the face, neck, and full body. These physicians have the most stringent surgical training requirements and have the highest standards of certification for plastic surgery procedures for the whole body and face, including procedures such as breast augmentation, abdominoplasty and facelift.
- The American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (ABFPRS) certifies physicians in the field of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. These board requirements for certification are specifically related to surgery of the face, head, and neck; especially procedures such as facelift and rhinoplasty.
- The American Board of Otolaryngology (ABO) certifies physicians in the specialty of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery.
To determine whether a physician is board certified, you can visit the website of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). The ABMS has 24 member boards that certify physicians in 88 different medical specialties.
While some cosmetic plastic surgery procedures are performed in a hospital, many are performed in a surgeon's office, surgical suite, or other facility. These facilities must meet certain quality standards to be accredited by the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF). Setting standards for office-based surgery has become a collaborative effort sponsored by the ASPS. You can read the standards and verify that an office or facility is accredited by the AAAASF by visiting their surgery facilities web page.
- To determine whether a physician is board certified, you can visit the website of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or call (800) 776-2378.
- To investigate physician credentials, pending malpractice judgments, and disciplinary actions, you can visit your state's medical board website or call them.
- To determine if the physician is permitted to perform care in a hospital, ask if the physician has hospital privileges and what procedures the privileges are for. Some doctors may have privileges to perform surgery, others may have privileges to use certain equipment such as a laser surgery, and others yet may not be permitted to perform your procedure in hospital at all. In order to obtain hospital privileges, the physician's skill set is reviewed by peer members.
- To determine that the facility is fully accredited, you can contact the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
- To determine that your surgeon or anesthesiologist is qualified to provide general anesthesia, you may contact the American Board of Anesthesiology at (919) 881-2570.
George John Bitar, MD
Larry Lickstein, MD
Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute
3023 Hamaker Court
Fairfax, VA 22031
George John Bitar, MD
Larry Lickstein, MD
Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute
8650 Sudley Road
Manassas, VA 20110
Michael J. Olding, MD, FACS
George Washington University Hospital
2150 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC, DC 20037