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How to Choose a Plastic Surgeon

The choice to undergo plastic surgery of any kind is a highly personal and important one. It’s important to find a surgeon who will be sensitive to your needs and who has extensive experience in this field. When choosing a surgeon, there are several important factors to consider, including:

Educational Background

Following completion of medical school, a board-certified plastic surgeon serves first as a surgical resident for at least 3 years where they undergo rigorous training in all aspects of surgery and then 3 years of focused plastic surgery training. The process can take 6 to 8 years or more and many further their training in fellowships including hand, microvascular, craniofacial, pediatric and aesthetic.

Certifications

It is always important to confirm that a plastic surgeon has been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) - the only board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties to certify doctors in the specialty of plastic surgery. Only ABPS diplomates can call themselves a plastic surgeon.

A fellow of the American College of Surgeons is often listed as "FACS." Fellowship indicates the surgeon's education and training, professional qualifications, surgical competence and ethical conduct have passed a rigorous evaluation, and have been found to be consistent with the high standards established and demanded by the ACS.

Among the factors to look for in selecting a plastic surgeon is membership in the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). All ASPS members need to have proper training and adhere to ethical standards, as well as being required to operate in accredited surgical facilities that have passed rigorous external review of equipment and staffing.

Risks

Most cosmetic surgery is extremely safe in the hands of surgeons certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. However, even with the highest level of care, every surgery carries risks as well as benefits, and these should be discussed thoroughly before your surgery.

  • Multiple procedures performed at the same time may increase the risks of surgery.
  • There are risks associated with anesthesia, analgesics and antibiotics.
  • Smokers are at greater risk of complications including delayed wound healing, skin loss, scarring, and poor surgical outcome.
  • Patients with a history of cardiovascular disease, lung disease, diabetes or obesity have a higher risk of developing complications.
  • Other risks include deep vein thrombosis (formulation of blood clots in the veins) and pulmonary embolism (a blood clot that goes to the lungs preventing the lungs from exchanging air). Factors such as general anesthesia and prolonged operating time appear to increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

Possible complications for any surgical procedure include:

  • Complications related to anesthesia, including pneumonia, blood clots and, rarely, death
  • Infection at the incision site, which may worsen scarring and require additional surgery
  • Fluid build-up under the skin
  • Mild bleeding, which may require another surgical procedure, or bleeding significant enough to require a transfusion
  • Obvious scarring or skin breakdown, which occurs when healing skin separates from healthy skin and must be removed surgically
  • Numbness and tingling from nerve damage, which may be permanent

You can reduce your risk of suffering these unwanted effects by checking your doctor’s credentials and investigating the facility where your surgery will happen. Educating yourself about the procedure and possible risks, and discussing your concerns with your doctor will also help you manage your expectations and reduce the risk of complications.