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How To Choose The Best Plastic Surgeon For You

By Kenneth Gilbert, MD
Massachusetts Plastic Surgeon

The first step in finding the best plastic surgeon for you is to get a name. A good source would be friends or family members who have undergone a plastic surgical procedure and are happy with their results. Your primary care physician may be able to recommend someone. You can call your local hospital and get the name of someone who is on their staff. Finally, you can get the name of a plastic surgeon from local directories. However, newspapers, magazines, internet sites, television stations, radio stations and Yellow pages do not have to verify a physician's qualifications when accepting advertising dollars. You will have to do this.

The most important question to ask is if the surgeon you are considering is board-certified in Plastic Surgery. The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) is one of the twenty-four Member Boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). When a physician has passed the requirements for "board certification", he/she is issued a certificate and becomes "board-certified". Other medical specialty boards, for example, are Urology, Orthopedic Surgery, General Surgery, etc. You want to ask if your surgeon is "board-certified in Plastic Surgery". A surgeon may be "board-certified" in another specialty, for example, Otolaryngology or Ophthalmology, and may have had extensive extra training (a "fellowship") in cosmetic surgery of the head and neck or eyelids. If you are considering a cosmetic surgical procedure involving these areas, this surgeon may be the right surgeon for you. Anyone can represent themselves as a "cosmetic surgeon". In most states, only surgeons who have completed training in plastic surgery can call themselves "plastic surgeons".

To become "board-certified" in Plastic Surgery a surgeon must graduate from an accredited medical school, then receive training ("internship and residency") in general surgery for at least three years, or receive full training (i.e. become "board-eligible" or "board-certified") in General Surgery, Neurological Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Urology or in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery (a M.D./D.D.S or D.M.D.). Then the surgeon must complete an approved residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery and practice a minimum of two years after graduation. During this time the surgeon may be considered "board-eligible", however, the use of this term is no longer recognized by the American Board of Plastic Surgery because some doctors have used this term for years without making any attempt towards receiving certification. After the two years of practice, the surgeon must then pass extensive written and oral examinations. These examinations include a review of all cases done by the surgeon in the preceding year. This whole process can take from seven to twelve years after graduation from medical school.

A surgeon may have elected to do a "fellowship" as part of his/her training. This would be additional specialty training after plastic surgery residency and before practice and the board certification process. This could be one or two years of training in a specialized area such as craniofacial surgery, hand surgery, aesthetic surgery, burns, etc.

Board certification is national and is not the same as state licensure. Newer board certification may have an expiration date and the surgeon must then "recertify" periodically. If your surgeon is not "board-certified in plastic surgery", find out why. Information about the certification status of any individual surgeon may be obtained in writing from the American Board of Plastic Surgery (1635 Market Street, Suite 400, Philadelphia, PA 19103). Or you can use the online Board Certification Verification at:

If your surgeon is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS, website: or the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS, website:, this will ensure that your surgeon is board certified in plastic surgery, as it is a requirement for membership.

Ask the surgeon about hospital privileges. Some surgical procedures can safely be performed in the doctor's office or other ambulatory surgical facility. These facilities should be accredited by the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF), state-licensed or Medicare-certified. Anesthesia should be administered by a certified registered nurse anesthetist or a physician anesthesiologist. But find out if the surgeon has operating privileges in an accredited hospital for the same procedure you would like to have performed. Before granting such operating privileges, hospital review committees evaluate a surgeon's training and competency.

Ask the surgeon what experience he/she has with the procedure you are considering. Ask the surgeon how often he/she performs the procedure. Ask what potential risks and complications are associated with the procedure you are considering and how they would be handled should they occur.

You can check with the medical board in your state to see whether the surgeon is licensed and whether any disciplinary action has been take against him/her.

Finally, you should trust your instincts. You should feel confidence in your surgeon. You should feel that you have good communication with your surgeon. You should feel that your surgeon and the office staff have made your good surgical care a priority.

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