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Cosmetic Surgeon v. Plastic Surgeon…Who is Who?

Recently I was at a neighbor’s party and one of the guests, discovering I was a plastic surgeon, came over to ask me some questions. And yes, this does happen to me often, and no I don’t mind. The woman in question had had a tummy tuck and was not satisfied with the results. I told her to come to the office so we could examine her more thoroughly. A few days later, she came by my office and I saw why she wasn’t happy with the results of her surgery. Without getting too technical, the stitches were not optimal and would most likely result in an unseemly scar. In talking with her about her surgery and her options, I discovered that the procedure had been performed by a cosmetic surgeon. She said the doctor was also an OB/GYN!

There has been a debate raging in plastic surgery circles about this now all too common issue. So I think it is not only important but my ethical duty, to take some time to explain the difference between cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons so you can make more informed decisions.

Plastic surgery includes both cosmetic surgery as well as reconstructive surgery. A plastic surgeon is specially trained to not only be able to do a face-lift but also to be able to fix a deformity such as a cleft palette. The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) will certify a plastic surgeon only after he/she has completed a valid training AND passed rigorous oral and written exams. The ABPS is only one of 24 recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

So is cosmetic surgery recognized as a medical specialty? No it is not. Cosmetic surgery is really a subspecialty of plastic surgery, and one which should be practiced by plastic surgeons. It focuses on procedures that take a normal body structure and improve it to make it look better and improve the person’s self-esteem. In most cases, and there are exceptions, cosmetic surgery is performed because the patient wants to appear more attractive. Breast implants, facelifts, tummy tucks, and hair replacement treatments are all common examples of cosmetic surgery procedure because the surgeon is enhancing the already normal body structure.

However, and this is where it’s time to pay attention, “cosmetic surgeon” is a generalized term that could be used by a certified plastic surgeon OR by a dermatologist, OB/GYN, primary care physician, and a host of others who decide to offer these procedures without necessarily having the proper training. In addition, often times these other doctors do not have hospital privileges to perform cosmetic procedures and also do not have malpractice insurance covering cosmetic procedures because they fall out of the scope of their training.

If anyone with an M.D. is allowed to call themselves a cosmetic or aesthetic surgeon, you have to be more diligent when choosing a surgeon. My advice? Choose a doctor who has experience and training specifically in your type of procedure. I had to perform countless tummy tucks, face lifts, and breast augmentations to ensure that I would have the skills to perform them correctly and without complications. o It still baffles me why anyone would want to go to an OB/GYN to get a breast augmentation. Better yet, it is even more puzzling why a doctor who isn’t trained in cosmetic procedures would offer them. Because do you know how many times they had to perform cosmetic procedures during training? That’s right – zero! So in order to be safe and guarantee a successful procedure, remember to ask detailed questions, research the doctor’s background and don’t be afraid to ask for references from patients.

To verify a physician’s board status, contact the American Board of Plastic Surgery at (215) 587-9322. You may also contact the American Board of Medical Specialties at 1(800) 776-2378 or www.abms.com .

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