Who is your cosmetic surgeon? Board Certified in What?

Stanley Okoro, MD
Article by
Atlanta Plastic Surgeon

Did you know that any physician might call him or herself a cosmetic surgeon without any surgical training? There is no standard for becoming a “cosmetic surgeon” in the United States. So who is your cosmetic surgeon?

The health care sector is confronting serious challenges including quality gaps, safety concerns, unsustainable costs, and health care disparities. Due to the decreasing insurance reimbursement, many physicians are now looking to the area of cosmetic surgery to supplement revenues. The cosmetic industry is a $10 Billion industry. 1,2 In 2007, Americans spent more than $13 billion for nearly 11.7 million cosmetic procedures. That's up from nearly 8.5 million procedures in 2001.3

Patients looking for a cosmetic surgeon in the Atlanta Georgia area have a wide selection of surgeons to choose from. It is important to carefully evaluate the qualifications your “cosmetic surgeon” before selecting one for your cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgeons vary greatly in their levels of qualification.

If you are thinking about having cosmetic surgery performed, I suggest you evaluate the following criteria when considering a cosmetic surgeon.

Is the cosmetic surgeon, a Plastic surgeon? Is he/she board certified?

Your cosmetic surgeon should be board certified by a surgical specialty board such as the American Board of Plastic Surgery. This is important because a physician can be board certified in a non-surgical specialty (they were not trained in surgery) without being board certified specifically in plastic surgery. Any licensed physician may perform cosmetic surgery, regardless of whether he or she has specialty training in this area.

Board certification by a specialty board of the American Board of medical specialties such as The American Board of Plastic Surgery ensures that your cosmetic surgeon has graduated from an accredited medical school, undergone a minimum of five years additional residency training, and is trained specifically in the medical specialty area to perform surgery.

Where will your cosmetic surgery be performed?

Find out if your surgery will be performed in a hospital or at a private surgery center. If it is to be performed in a hospital, ask the cosmetic surgeon whether he or she has hospital privileges and verify these. If it is to be performed in a private surgery center, ensure it is a certified ambulatory surgical facility with a licensed team available to assist with anesthesia, surgery, and recovery.

Is your cosmetic surgeon licensed to perform surgery in any hospital location?
Your cosmetic surgeon should have a valid medical license in the state or district where you are having the surgery performed.

Who will be providing your anesthesia care?

If you plan to undergo a cosmetic surgery procedure that requires heavy sedation or general anesthesia, find out the qualifications of the person who will be administering your anesthesia and monitoring your vital signs. This person is as critical to your safety as your cosmetic surgeon, and there are significant differences in qualifications among the various anesthesia professionals.

This person should practice anesthesia on a daily basis in hospital settings and have the up-to-date skills necessary to handle emergencies should they arise.

How many procedures like yours has the cosmetic surgeon performed?

Can you view before-and-after pictures? The cosmetic surgeon you choose should be experienced at performing your specific procedure and have performed it numerous times. Ask to see before-and-after pictures of the cosmetic surgeon’s work and find out if you can speak with prior patients who have had this procedure done. Many cosmetic surgeons will only show their best result. Ask for more than one picture.

Does the cosmetic surgeon belong to any medical associations?

Physicians must meet certain criteria to be granted membership to most medical associations, including meeting a minimum number of continuing education hours per year. Membership in organizations such as American Society of Plastic Surgeons is also considered prestigious. These associations promote and advance quality care to plastic surgery patients by encouraging high standards of training, ethics, and patient safety.

Cosmetic surgery means different things to different people. One thing, however, remains the same for any cosmetic surgery procedure: the single most important factor in the success of cosmetic surgery is choosing a trained surgeon. Your cosmetic surgeon should openly and honestly answer all of your questions, listen to your goals, and advise you of all options and risks associated with the procedure. You should not feel rushed during your consultation or pressured to say yes to any treatments.

Stanley A. Okoro, MD, FACS