Is your “Plastic Surgeon” really a plastic surgeon? What you don’t know can definitely hurt you.

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In a recent study, only 1 out of every 4 “cosmetic surgeons” in Southern California actually has formal training in plastic surgery! Even more shocking was the fact that 40% of cosmetic surgeries were performed by doctors who had NO surgical training whatsoever!! Dermatologists, otolaryngologists, ob-gyn’s, and even family practice doctors are offering cosmetic procedures now, and it’s up to YOU to know who’s legit, and who’s making false claims about their qualifications to perform Botox injections, mini-facelifts, and liposuction.

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With all the different titles out there (“plastic surgeon”, “cosmetic surgeon”, and “facial plastic surgeon”) it’s becoming more and more confusing to figure out who’s qualified to do what.

So, before this situation gets any more out of control, and before anyone else falls in harms way at the will of untrained hands, let’s set the record straight about who’s who in the world of “Cosmetic Surgery”.

“Cosmetic Surgeon”

This title is the one of the main sources of confusion. A cosmetic surgeon can be anyone. Let me repeat that. A cosmetic surgeon can be ANYONE. An ob-gyn, a dermatologist, an internist, any of these docs can take a weekend course and get a certificate that says they are “qualified”. Even though there should be, there is no law that says Dr. So-and-So has to be a Plastic Surgeon to inject Botox or do liposuction. Yup, if you wanted to,  even you could call yourself a “Cosmetic Surgeon” and start luring people into your “office” for surgery… and believe it or not, this has been done. Scary, but true.

“Facial Plastic Surgeon”

Now the issue gets a little more confusing. “Facial Plastic Surgeons” are trained to perform some cosmetic surgery… note that the emphasis here is on some. A facial plastic surgeon has to complete a full internship and residency in Otolaryngology (usually 5 years), and then a fellowship in Facial Plastic Surgery (1-2 years) that gives him extra training in cosmetic surgery of the face… only the face. It’s somewhat of a misnomer that their title includes the words “plastic surgeon” because they are not true plastic surgeons, and therefore are not qualified to do any surgery below the neck. That means no breast implants, no liposuction, and no tummy tucks. These are specialized operations that require the unique expertise of a fully trained plastic surgeon if they are to be performed safely, and should never be attempted by a “facial” plastic surgeon.

“Dermatologic Surgeon”

A dermatologic surgeon is also a bit of a misnomer. There is such a specialty, but surgeries that dermatologists are qualified to perform are related only to skin cancer. Most of these procedures are not really “surgery” in the true sense of the word, but more often tiny biopsies or “shaves” that rarely lead to bleeding and don’t require stitches. “Moh’s Surgeons” are dermatologists who have special training in Moh’s surgery, which is an advanced technique to remove more serious skin cancers. Moh’s surgeons are the only dermatologists who can honestly call themselves “surgeons”, but this should remind you of something we already talked about. You remember that a “cosmetic surgeon” doesn’t necessarily have training in plastic surgery, right? Well, neither does a dermatologic “surgeon”. When it comes to injectables like Botox and fillers, a dermatologist may not be a bad choice. But when it comes to cosmetic surgery, they are not qualified. Skin cancer… no problem.  Facelift… no way!

“Plastic Surgeon”

Now, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for… What is a Plastic Surgeon? A real Plastic Surgeon is someone who graduated from medical school, and completed 6-8 years (minimum) of formal training in both General Surgery and Plastic Surgery at a reputable institution. Plastic surgeons are fully trained to perform cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the entire face, body, and extremities, and are also thoroughly knowledgeable of how to make these procedures SAFE.

“Aesthetic Plastic Surgeon”

An aesthetic surgeon is a plastic surgeon who has done extra training to specialize in aesthetic surgery. Notice the difference in terminology here; “cosmetic” vs “aesthetic”. An aesthetic surgeon is proficient in a number of techniques and more advanced procedures beyond a regular plastic surgeon, and is the only surgeon that can truly be considered an expert in this field. Although almost anyone can exploit the title of a “cosmetic surgeon”, only a select few can call themselves Aesthetic Surgeons. Their diplomas and certificates say “Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery” and “Aesthetic Plastic Surgery”.

Now that we’ve set the record straight about who should be doing your surgery, you should also know that a title isn’t everything. After you have established that your surgeon is who they say they are, there are several other things you need to consider. They should have a valid, unrestricted medical license in the state where they are practicing, and should have no outstanding legal claims against that license. They should have privileges to perform surgery at at least one major hospital in their area, even if most of their procedures are done in the office or in ambulatory surgi-center. And most importantly, you’re experience with them should make sense. If you are visiting with your surgeon in their living room, and they say they do their surgeries  “across the hall”, you should walk out the door. If their prices seem way to good to be true, they probably are. And if you don’t feel that you’re getting all the information you need to make an informed decision about whether or not to trust this doctor to place a knife to your skin, you should find someone else.

So, the next time you’re in the market for a nip or a tuck, make sure you do your homework and find out who’s actually going to be holding the scalpel. Not everyone who has a bunch of letters after their name has the training, the talent, or the skill necessary to perform cosmetic surgery, and make no mistake about it… cosmetic surgery is real surgery, and your Plastic Surgeon should definitely be a real plastic surgeon.

Here are several good services to do a check-up on your doctor:

DoctorScoreCard.com

HealthGrades.com

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Photo Credit: iStockPhoto

NOTICE: None of the celebrities or individuals discussed here have ever received treatment, surgery, medical advice, or evaluations from any author, physician, surgeon, or representative of this blog. All images and photos in this article represent models only. No actual patients or clients are shown.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Is your “Plastic Surgeon” really a plastic surgeon? What you don’t know can definitely hurt you.

  1. MAS

    Read about the Donda West Law that has been recently enacted in California in response to the death of Kayne’s mother after routine liposuction surgery. One step in the right direction, but still along way to go.

    http://highsocietyplasticsurgery.com/2010/04/18/the-donda-west-law-thank-you-governor-schwarzenegger/

  2. MAS

    Let’s meet Dr. Melanie Carreon from Laser Cosmetic Solutions in Sequin, Texas. Dr. Carreon has a new YouTube video that advertises her technique for doing breast augmentation surgery while you’re awake. While it’s disturbing that she’s doing breast augmentations awake, let me tell you what’s even more worrisome… SHE’S A FAMILY PRACTICE DOCTOR!!!

    This is exactly why you have to know who your “surgeon” is! There is no law to protect you from hacks like this, so you have to know that a there is a reason that plastic surgeons train for 6-8 years to become qualified and safe surgeons. Even though it is inconceivable that someone with NO SURGICAL TRAINING can perform surgeries, it is happening every single day. It’s truly amazing that this doctor feels safe enough to put pretend to be a surgeon on YouTube for the world to see because she knows that her patients have no idea that she’s not a surgeon at all.

    Dr. Carreon, you should be ashamed of yourself. You, and everyone else like you, are giving surgeons a bad name, and you are placing your patients in harms way by performing surgeries that you are NOT qualified to do. We know that there is no law in place to keep you from doing this, but honestly, a law isn’t what’s needed here. It’s called morality… something which you obviously know nothing about.

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  10. Hi, I’m thinking of having breast implant surgery. My problem is about having over muscle as I am very active meaning that I do crossfit. Does anybody have any feedback? I have not seen the doctor as I am still unsure re the operation. Thank you

    • Hi Terresa,
      You should consider your thought about having the implants placed over the muscle very carefully. It is not a recommended placement for any breast implants nowadays because of the risk of capsular contracture with sub glandular (over the muscle) implants. I perform breast augmentation surgery in women who make a living in the fitness industry (fitness and figure competitors, competitive bodybuilders, professional volleyball players, high level personal trainers, etc), and none of them have ever had a problem with sub muscular breast implants. Unless you make a living with your pec muscles, I would strongly suggest that you have a sub muscular breast augmentation to minimize complications in the long term, and for the most natural result possible.

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