What Does Board Certification Mean and Why Does It Matter?

Jager Weatherby on 11 Mar 2015 at 4:00pm

Board Certification

Undergoing plastic surgery is a huge and possibly life-altering decision, so why would you want to add even greater risk to the process? RealSelf is all about empowering consumers to make informed and safe decisions about their cosmetic procedures, and one of the ways we do that is by encouraging our users to choose board-certified plastic surgeons.

Of course, you might be wondering: What does board-certification mean and why does it matter? Well, that’s what we’re here to explain.

What Does Board Certification Mean?

There are many valid medical boards in the United States, but a doctor doesn’t have to belong to any of them in order to offer cosmetic procedures. Certification by a board means that a physician is recognized as having expertise in a particular speciality.

In short, a board-certified doctor:
  • Completed medical school
  • Spent three to six years in an accredited residency program
  • Has a record that's been reviewed and accepted by their peers
  • Obtained a valid and unrestricted medical license
  • Passed a written, and in some cases, oral examination
  • Subscribes to a Code of Ethics according to their specific organization, as well as state licensing board
  • Is dedicated to ongoing education in order to keep up with the latest techniques and technologies in their speciality
But here’s where it gets even more complicated: Even if a doctor does belong to a legitimate board, that still doesn’t mean they’re qualified to perform any sort of cosmetic procedure. Specialty boards range from Family Medicine to Pathology to Psychiatry. A doctor might be extremely experienced in one field, but have no experience performing plastic surgery. In the United States, what you're looking for are physicians who are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the American Board of Dermatology, and the American Board of Ophthalmology. Depending on your needs, they may all be qualified to handle specific aesthetic or reconstructive concerns.

Why Is Board Certification Important?

RealSelf has analyzed tens of thousands of consumer reviews across hundreds of procedures on our site, and the results are incredibly clear: The most reliable outcomes and highest degrees of satisfaction happen when people are in the hands of physicians who have proven experience in the field. The results are especially staggering for procedures that are often offered by doctors who don’t specialize in cosmetic surgery. The satisfaction rate for liposuction was 24% higher for those who went to a certified plastic surgeon, and 27% higher for uber popular Botox.

Board Certification Satisfaction Rates

What’s scary is that the law doesn’t protect consumers from doctors who don’t have the proper training, so it’s up to you to do your homework. There’s a rising trend of “medical moonlighters,” for example: Dentists can legally perform liposuction, gynecologists can do breast augmentation, and even psychologists are offering Botox. The problem’s only getting worse with the growth of coupon sites, group buying specials, and social media marketing, which often put pressure on consumers to buy immediately instead of encouraging research. Diligent patients will not only look at board certification, but also what specific procedures a doctor specializes in. 

Minimize the Risk: Go Board-Certified

If you want to minimize risk and have a better chance of getting good results, board certification matters. Being certified in a specialty means being recognized as an expert in that specialty — and why wouldn't you want to go to an expert? If you're looking for a breast augmentation, go to a doctor who's certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and frequently performs that procedure. Want a rhinoplasty? Find a doctor who's certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Bottom line: Look for a doctor who has a proven track record with the surgery you want.

Have thoughts or personal stories to share on the post above? Leave them in the comments below!