How to Choose a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon

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How to Choose a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon

We are often asked by patients, “What does it mean to be board certified?”

In general terms, board certification simply means that the doctor has taken an examination to receive a certificate from some kind of medical board. This does not mean the doctor is qualified for the specific specialty, as there is very confusing nomenclature out there. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is considered the gold standard of regulatory bodies governing medical board certification. The ABMS oversees several medical and surgical specialties including plastic surgery. The plastic surgery board is called the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), and is an ABMS specialty board. Surgeons who have passed the rigorous written and oral plastic surgery boards (which includes in-depth inquiry into a selection of the surgeon’s real patient cases, several standardized test cases, and a review of the surgeon’s billing and ethical practices) earn the right to say we are “Diplomates of the American Board of Plastic Surgery,” or, for short, “Board Certified in Plastic Surgery.”

Some of us have ALSO earned certification in a preparatory specialty like General Surgery, which is the traditional way plastic surgeons have been trained for many decades. This can mean your surgeon will report being “Double Board-Certified.” For instance, Dr. Sayed is certified by both the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Surgery, which are both ABMS certifications. This indicates a very high level of educational and training commitment on the part of the surgeon.

You may have come across the term “cosmetic surgeon” and be confused. There is a reason for that! Many doctors out there, who are not trained or are not certified as plastic surgeons, will use the term “cosmetic surgeon” to make the public believe they are equally qualified to practice cosmetic plastic surgery. Sometimes these are doctors who have completed other, “core” specialties like Ear, Nose, Throat Surgery (ENT, or Otolaryngology to be precise) or Ophthalmology, which include a more limited focus on cosmetic procedures in certain anatomic areas within their training. The term “Facial Plastic Surgeon” has come to represent, typically, an ENT surgeon who has done some additional fellowship work in cosmetic surgery of the face and neck. However, the patient may confuse this for someone who has completed a full plastic surgery residency and went on to focus on only doing cosmetic surgery of the face and neck. That does not mean there are not many highly qualified and talented “Facial Plastic Surgeons” out there. It does mean, however, you should be comfortable asking the surgeon to detail his or her credentials, especially if the surgeon may be offering procedures below the neck, like breast augmentation or liposuction. More confusing is the use of “cosmetic surgeon” by doctors who are not surgeons at all in terms of their training background! Because medical licensure and the granting of operating privileges by certain facilities may not require that a doctor be board certified by an ABMS board for the types of procedures the surgeon may wish to offer, it is hard to limit the scope of practice among doctors by regulations. Many non-plastic surgeons have taken the opportunity to form new “boards,” “academies,” and other organizations to promote themselves as “cosmetic surgeons,” and this is a source of much frustration for board certified plastic surgeons who took the time to train properly in these diverse procedures and earn the distinction of board certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.

One a plastic surgeon has passed the ABPS exams, he or she can apply for membership in the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). This organization only allows membership by board-certified plastic surgeons. Surgeons who go on to do a sufficient number of cosmetic surgery cases at least three years after board certification can then apply for membership in the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), which is the premier cosmetic plastic surgery organization. Members of ASAPS often have chosen to further focus their practices on cosmetic plastic surgery, though many will still perform some reconstructive surgery as well.

Look for the seals of ABPS, ASAPS and ASPS on a plastic surgeon’s website as symbols of excellence in Plastic Surgery!