How to Choose the Right Aesthetic Surgeon for You

Cosmetic SurgeonWhen you first start to think about having an aesthetic surgery procedure or a non-surgical one, picking the right physician is a huge decision. You take time to look at the facts, but with every website touting world-class credentials and fame, how do you know who to choose? I once had a patient, who was a judge by profession, discover that she had undergone a procedure by a non-plastic surgeon. She had reviewed the doctor online and saw diplomas and certificates in the office, but yet she was still deceived. If it can happen to a judge, it can happen to anyone.

Any doctor can say they perform aesthetic surgery; however, there are ways to make sure that the physician you are considering does actually have the correct qualifications to perform the procedure that you desire. If you know where and how to look, it can be easier than you think.

  1. Training background. Common sense dictates that you want to find a doctor who is specially trained in the area in which you are interested. It would seem odd to choose an emergency room physician to do your facelift, or a pediatrician to do your breast surgery, but these things do happen. To know for sure, check out specific background training and if that training was actually completed in its entirety in a residency program approved by the American Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) []. Appropriate background training for aesthetic surgery procedures, i.e. those training programs that include aesthetic surgery or procedures within their curriculum, include plastic surgery (all areas), otolaryngology (facial), ophthalmology (facial areas around the eyes), and dermatology (skin). Physicians trained in these areas will often have additional training such as an aesthetic surgery fellowship leading to additional credentials, e.g. certifications by the American Board for Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery or membership in the American Society for Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
  2. Board certification. Everyone knows to check out board certification, but most don’t realize that medical boards are not regulated by the states or federal government. This means that just about anyone can create a “board” and print impressive looking certificates that may not be backed up by the appropriate training and testing to assure your safety. With successful completion of testing, ACGME training programs lead to certification by boards that are members of the American Board of Medical Specialties []. These include the American Board of Plastic Surgery, the American Board of Otolaryngology, the American Board of Dermatology, and the American Board of Ophthalmology, which together represent the “core four” boards. Be aware these boards generally require a period of time in practice before the certification is awarded. If a surgeon that you are considering is board eligible, don’t discount them for not having their certification in hand as long as they are working toward that certification.
  3. Where the doctor operates. Hospitals, outpatient surgery facilities, and office-based surgical facilities are all appropriate locations for aesthetic procedures. It is critical, however, that the facility is appropriately certified by one of the major certifying organizations. These include the Joint Commission, the American Association for the Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities, or the American Association for Ambulatory Health Care.
  4. Hospital privileges. Most aesthetic surgery procedures are performed in an office or ambulatory surgery environment; however, it is important that your doctor has hospital privileges as well. In order to be granted hospital privileges, a credentialing committee must examine the training background, board certification or eligibility, and ethical considerations of the physician. The surgeon you choose should have privileges to perform your desired procedure in a hospital.
  5. Memberships in legitimate national professional societies. Many national medical societies require that members are board certified in a particular specialty. For example, both the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons require that members be board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. In addition to the education that they require, they examine marketing claims, review ethics complaints, and require that surgeons operate only in approved surgical facilities.
  6. Speaking with former patients. Often patients who have had surgery will volunteer to speak with others about their experiences with the doctor. This can be very helpful on a couple of fronts, first by making you feel comfortable with the care that has been provided to someone else, but also by understanding directly what the recovery and results were like.
  7. Don’t choose solely based on photographs. Although historically it was recommended to review a doctor’s before and after photographs to make a decision, in this digital age you can never be sure if those are actually that doctor’s patients or that the images are not touched up. Lighting and makeup can markedly affect how the photos look, and of course, surgeons tend to pick their best patients to showcase. For these reasons, choosing a doctor based primarily on their photographs may not be reliable. However, when talking with a doctor that you trust, pictures can be a powerful tool to help you understand what your results could look like and what are realistic expectations.

Once you do your homework, then it is very important to meet with the doctor one-on-one. Do they seem genuine? Do they really listen to you? Do they spend appropriate time with you? Are they trying to sell you something or do they seem truly interested in you and your goals? If you feel uneasy with a surgeon before surgery, just imagine how you will feel afterwards, especially if things don’t go as hoped.

At the Emory Aesthetic Center we are committed to having appropriately trained and certified physicians working within their scope of training. All of our physicians have undergone the scrutiny of Emory Healthcare’s credentialing process, and each holds an appointed faculty position at the Emory University School of Medicine. But most importantly, our physicians are committed to providing quality care to you, with understanding and compassion, as you embark upon your aesthetic journey.

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