Who’s Performing Your Surgery?

The Difference Between Board Certified Plastic Surgeons and those who Aren’t

By Robert G. Anderson, M.D.

Not all plastic surgeons are the same. Here, you can find out the difference between the certification (or lack thereof) and what that means for you as a patient.

Q:  What does it mean to be “board certified?”

In order for a plastic surgeon to be board certified, they must be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The ABPS is the only board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) to certify physicians in the full range of plastic and reconstructive procedures. To be certified by the ABPS, a physician must have at least five years of approved surgical training, including a residency in plastic surgery, along with passing comprehensive written and oral exams in plastic surgery. Board certified plastic surgeons must also go through periodic recertification (every six to 10 years) to ensure that they’re engaged in continuing education and examination to keep current in their specialty.

It is so important for you as a perspective patient to make sure that your plastic surgeon is board certified. Ask the surgeon: look for the certifications hanging on their wall or in their office. If a plastic surgeon is really board certified and qualified to be doing what they say they can, then trust me, they will want you to know; we don’t work this hard to hide it from you!

Q:  Isn’t every plastic surgeon board certified?

No, they are not, unfortunately! Unlike a medical license, board certification reflects a specialty for a physician, but it is not a requirement in order to utilize the name “plastic surgeon.” Medical specialty certification in the United States is a voluntary process. While medical licensure sets the minimum competency requirements to diagnose and treat patients, it is not specialty specific.  Board certification demonstrates a physician’s exceptional expertise in a particular specialty and/or subspecialty of medical practice.

As I mentioned above, in order to even be initially considered for certification as a plastic surgeon, you must have at least five years of approved surgical training. However, you would be very surprised (and even scared) to learn how easy it is for your plastic surgery to be performed by someone who has never had any formal surgical training. This fact leads me to the next question that I hear on a regular basis.

Q:  What is the difference between a “cosmetic surgeon” and a “plastic surgeon?”

The easiest answer to this question is this: Any physician claiming to be a “cosmetic surgeon” could be trained in any specialty, including a nonsurgical specialty, because anyone who has a medical license can legally call him/herself a surgeon even if they have no formal surgical training.

This brings me to another important difference. Physicians that do not have plastic surgery training may only perform cosmetic surgery in their offices. Only a board certified plastic surgeon has the privilege of performing these procedures not only in their own offices, but in an accredited hospital as well. If you’re unsure of the physician you’re meeting with, or don’t feel comfortable receiving the procedure in their office, then ask if they can perform it in an accredited hospital. If they say, “no,” then you know to turn around and run!

Another important fact to note is memberships to which these physicians claim allegiance. One membership to look for in choosing a board certified plastic surgeon is whether or not they are members of American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. In order to become a member of the ASAPS, you must be invited. The ASAPS is recognized throughout the world as the authoritative source for cosmetic surgery education; so if your “plastic surgeon” isn’t a member, you might want to think twice about using them for your surgery.

Q:  So how do I find a board certified plastic surgeon?

Finding out whether or not your physician is a board certified plastic surgeon can be done through a simple search. There are also great websites that can help you figure it out as well.  The ABMS, along with the American Board of Plastic Surgery’s website, has a page dedicated solely to helping you find out whether or not your doctor is certified.