Cosmetic surgery has become an accepted part of American culture. What was once reserved for the wealthy is now prevalent in most income brackets, spanning multiple age groups. In fact, 64% of cosmetic surgery patients are under the age of 50, and their median income is $60,000 or less*.

As the number of cosmetic surgical patients procedures has grown, the number of physicians performing these procedures has also expanded. The knowledge, training, experience, and working environment of these practitioners are quite disparate. Unfortunately, patients considering cosmetic surgery are sometimes unaware of the doctor’s training, experience, and safety profile.

Legally, any doctor can perform cosmetic surgery, and with decreased reimbursements from insurance companies, many physicians with minimal training turn to cosmetic procedures to supplement their incomes. I will address the effect this may have on surgical outcomes in a future article, but for now let’s discuss the issue of patient safety and cosmetic surgery.

With most surgical procedures, the surgery is being performed to treat a condition, disease, or trauma. The goal is to return a sick or injured patient to a normal state of health. Cosmetic surgery differs in that the baseline is at a normal condition, and the surgery is performed to improve on the normal appearance and make it better than normal. Therefore, it can, and should, be held to a higher standard.

Patient safety should be first and foremost in the minds of both the surgeon and the patient. An ethical, qualified surgeon will evaluate the health of the patient and determine if they are a candidate for surgery. If necessary, a medical clearance and any indicated medical testing should be performed. The surgery should be performed in an accredited surgical setting.

How should a patient assess the safety parameters in place for their proposed procedures?

The following are some of my suggestions. Try to determine the following:

  • Is your surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery? There are many official sounding boards, so be sure that this is a valid certification. You can also check with the American Board of Medical Specialties to see if the board certification is one that they recognize.
  • Is your surgeon a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons?
  • Are they a member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery?
  • Is the facility you are going to an accredited outpatient surgical center?
  • Does your surgeon have hospital privileges to perform your surgery at a local hospital?
  • Is your surgeon on staff at a local hospital?
  • How many of these kinds of procedures have the surgeon done?
  • Are there malpractice claims against the surgeon? You can contact the Florida Department of Health, or the Florida Board of Medicine.
  • Are there malpractice claims against the facility?
  • Check history of problems with the procedure and their malpractice history.
  • Ask your surgeon how long their staff has been with them, this can be very telling.
  • Ask your family physician or a trusted medical professional their opinion of the plastic surgeon and facility you are considering.

Please remember, you are not buying an operation. You are comparing doctors and facilities, each with unique skill sets, some better, some worse, to best meet your goals and expectations. You should never feel embarrassed or intimidated about asking your doctor about his or her qualifications and training. It’s your right and responsibility to know this very important information.