Understanding the Cosmetic Surgeon vs. Plastic Surgeon Difference

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Recent headlines have painted a grim picture of the “Wild Wild West” scenario unfolding in plastic surgery across the country. Around the country, reports of unqualified physicians performing high-risk surgeries like high-volume liposuction and Brazilian butt lifts run rampant. This unsettling trend underscores the importance of understanding what “board certified” truly means and how to verify a surgeon’s qualifications. Here are essential tips to vet your surgeon and avoid botched results and falling prey to misleading marketing claims.

  • Robert Singer, MD is a board-certified plastic surgeon based in La Jolla, CA
  • Raman Mahabir, MD is a board-certified plastic surgeon based in Tucson, AZ
  • Ruth L. Hillelson, MD is a board-certified plastic surgeon based in Richmond, VA
  • Mokhtar Asaadi, MD is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York

Why the confusion?

When a surgeon lists themselves as “board certified,” that doesn’t mean they’re certified by the most legitimate board for accreditation. Simply put, not all “board certifications” are equal, and some physicians exploit this ambiguity.

“Some doctors advertise themselves as qualified ‘cosmetic surgeons,’ but many lack sufficient training to perform aesthetic surgeries or possess proper certification,” says La Jolla, CA, plastic surgeon Robert Singer, MD. He adds, “A cosmetic board is not recognized as a legitimate board by the American Board of Medical Specialties.”

What does “board-certified” actually mean?

A board is an independent organization that establishes standards for evaluating medical specialties. To earn board certification, a doctor must pass rigorous oral and written exams specific to their specialty.

Which board should you look for?

It’s crucial to ensure your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Boards with ‘cosmetic’ in their name do not meet ABMS standards. Seek certifications from the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology (Head & Neck Surgery), both recognized by ABMS.

What distinguishes a board-certified plastic surgeon from a “cosmetic surgeon?”

According to Tucson, AZ plastic surgeon Raman Mahabir, MD, “The American Board of Plastic Surgery has stringent training requirements that encompass extensive surgical training, graded responsibility, competency milestones, and a rigorous board examination process.”

“These are not weekend courses or courses with individuals,” adds Richmond, VA plastic surgeon Ruth L. Hillelson, MD. “Plastic surgeons are trained with full emphasis on surgical skills, decision-making and the development of the aesthetic edge.”

The term “cosmetic surgeon” can be misleading, Dr. Mahabir explains: “Some cosmetic boards allow individuals from various non-surgical specialties to obtain certifications without adequate training,” he says. This includes physicians with backgrounds in fields like ER medicine or radiology, who may lack the comprehensive training required for plastic surgery.

“I have personally corrected surgeries performed by non-plastic surgeons who claimed to be board-certified cosmetic surgeons,” says Dr. Mahabir. This highlights the importance of thorough research and scrutiny in choosing a surgeon.”

Choosing a qualified surgeon the first time

Choosing the right surgeon from the start is imperative, as the risks, including death, are prevalent, and fixing a botched procedure is not as easy as one would hope. “The patient has to be educated,” says New York plastic surgeon Mokhtar Asaadi, MD. This sentiment resonates deeply with those who seek corrective surgeries after initial failures, often opting for cheaper alternatives only to face severe complications upon return. Dr. Asaadi’s firsthand experiences in treating patients with infections, fluid collections, and facial nerve damage caused by unqualified doctors vividly illustrate the substantial risks associated with compromised standards and expertise in cosmetic surgery.

He notes the importance of choosing qualified surgeons, stating, “You have to go to the right person in the beginning or it may end up costing you much more,” he says, underscoring the critical need for thorough research and informed decision-making in cosmetic procedures to avoid such harrowing outcomes.

To verify a doctor’s board certification in their specific trained specialty, visit certificationmatters.org for reliable information.





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