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How to Pick a Plastic Surgeon

How to Pick a Plastic Surgeon

How to Pick a Plastic Surgeon 

Choosing a cosmetic plastic surgeon is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, but many people simply don’t know where to begin. Surprisingly, many people spend more time deciding which new car to buy than who is going to do their liposuction or facelift. And marketing efforts don’t make it any easier, with slick television and magazine ads touting the latest and greatest techniques, often with clever trademarked names. Plastic surgery has become so commonplace (more than 11 million procedures a year in the U.S) that it is all too easy to downplay the risks.

What to look for...

Board Certification is of course one of the most important factors to consider. A common misconception though is that board certification relates to licensure. The fact is that any licensed doctor can legally perform any procedure a patient is willing to undergo, regardless of their specialty training. An obstetrician could legally do brain surgery if someone would let them. This may be an absurd example in order to illustrate the point, but they could just as easily hang out a shingle calling themselves cosmetic surgeons and go to town with liposuction (and many do).

So where does a smart person start? To begin with, it is important to know that cosmetic surgery is a type of plastic surgery, but a lot of doctors certified in other specialties do cosmetic procedures. Because cosmetic surgery isn’t covered by insurance, and managed care continues to squeeze incomes, more and more physicians are adding private-pay cosmetic procedures to their practices. Sometimes they are perfectly skilled, sometimes less so. Before you look for a little extra help getting in shape for swimsuit season, here are a few points of advice:

1.    Seek referrals from friends; first hand sources are better than referrals from ads. Even better if they have had the type of procedure you are interested in. Your primary care physician might know who is great with reconstructive plastic surgery, but that isn’t always the same as expertise in the cosmetic side.
2.    Determine what the physician’s core specialty is and how it fits with the surgery you are considering. In other words, what was their residency training program in? (That would indicate their primary board certification.) Is it in a specialty that makes sense for what you are considering?
3.    View “before and after” pictures with a grain of salt: are you seeing typical results or rare good results? The “before and after” gallery is an effective marketing tool, but realize that you are seeing a very selected set. Look for photos that display a sense of artistry that looks natural and aligns with your goals.
4.    Go with your gut. With cosmetic plastic surgery, you aren’t shopping for a new outfit, you are entering into a doctor-patient relationship. It has to feel right.
5.    Ask questions about risks and what you can realistically expect; the best doctors welcome questions and want well-informed patients.
6.    Remember that not everything new is automatically better. Sometimes the new “magic instant laser lunchtime lift” really isn’t your best choice. Some of these devices are expensive and so there is intensive marketing to make the investment pay off. (When you have a golden hammer, everything looks like a nail.)
7.    Ask whether the facility where the procedure would be performed is accredited. This is very important, because accreditation requires that procedures to safeguard your safety in the event of an emergency are in place. Additionally, your surgeon should have hospital privileges for the specific procedure you are going to have even if it is not done at the hospital. In an office–based facility, you could for example have a radiologist doing liposuction, but in a hospital setting the doctor has to document their training and experience with each procedure they are allowed to do.
8.    Don’t be afraid to shop around a little bit, but don’t rely too much on price as a point of comparison. The best doctor isn’t always the most expensive, and the fanciest offices aren’t necessarily the best indicator of surgical skill.
9.    Keep an open mind about your options. Your surgeon should begin with listening to your specific concerns, then develop a plan accordingly.
10.  Finally, remember that surgery is surgery. Despite advances in nonsurgical techniques for rejuvenation, there is no such thing as a “nonsurgical face lift” or a “nonsurgical tummy tuck.” In order to know how to balance your needs, expectations, budget, and other concerns, your ideal plastic surgeon should be competent in a range of minimally invasive or nonsurgical procedures in addition to traditional techniques in order to make the right recommendation for you.

In Conclusion

Plastic surgery has gone mainstream, and it is tempting to think of it as a sort of glamorized beauty treatment. On the other hand, it is safer than ever before, and recovery from surgery is often faster, thanks to continuing innovation in techniques and technology. But complications happen regardless of the physician’s skill. By choosing a plastic surgeon who is board-certified and well-trained, you will at least have the assurance that they know how to deal with those circumstances.

Dr. Richard Baxter is one of the nation’s top cosmetic surgeons. He is a member of the Emerging Trends Committee of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, faculty member at the University Of Washington School Of Medicine, Chief Medical Officer of Calidora Skin Clinics, Medical Director of Healthy Aging, and the author of Age Gets Better with Wine. For more about Dr. Baxter visit and his blog about hot topics in plastic surgery Contact Dr. Baxter via email or by phone: 425.776.0880.