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Plastic Surgeon versus Cosmetic Surgeon

Making a decision on having plastic surgery is a very personal choice.  Once a decision has been made, the patient enters a state of vulnerability; they start to sort through a mass of information and misinformation.  They are bombarded by right or wrong advice from friends, news media, unqualified doctors, and get trapped in sophisticated marketing, sales pitch, low prices and fancy advertisement.  Before they know, the patient loses focus on the most important factor in their surgical outcome: qualified physician, and a safe environment.  Even when get back on track, the patient usually has no way of evaluating the doctor, titles, trainings, and all the degrees and symbols that doctors attached to their name. 

So the question is: are plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons just different names for the same specialist? No way! The difference between plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons is enormous. In a nutshell, plastic surgeons have spent upwards of 10 years following medical school to become board eligible by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.  On the other hand, a cosmetic surgeon might have been trained only a few weekends to perform a cosmetic surgical procedure!!!

 Who is a Plastic Surgeon?

 A Plastic Surgeon is a medical doctor who has spent his life training to be a plastic surgeon. He has successfully completed four years of high school, four years of college while enrolled in a pre-med curriculum, scored well on his MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), graduated from a four year medical school and completed three to seven years of general surgery training, while passing yearly written examinations. 

 And that’s not all. Plastic Surgeons have also completed two to three years of plastic surgery training and usually undergo additional training as part of fellowships. Often, this adds up to ten years of residency and fellowships following medical school.

 Once surgeons have completed this intensive training, they apply to the American Board of Plastic Surgery and are eligible to take a two-day written examination. Upon passing the written portion of the exam and then following at least one year in practice, applicants may then opt to take an intensive two-day oral examination, based on their own surgical cases.

 During this oral examination, applicants must answer extensive and rigorous questions from some of the best Board Certified Plastic Surgeons in the United States. Slightly more than half of the applicants pass and become “Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.”

 And remember, the American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes the American Board of Plastic Surgery as the only board for certification of plastic surgeons. Typically, a board certified plastic surgeon is in his or her mid thirties.

 Due to their extensive schooling, Board Eligible/Certified Plastic Surgeons are not only trained in performing hundreds of aesthetic and reconstructive procedures, but they are also able to accurately assess which procedures are right for their patients. In addition, they know how to respond to and treat complications that may occur; as part of their training, they spend hundreds of hours caring for patients in various medical situations.

 Who is a Cosmetic Surgeon?

 There are no laws restricting the use of the title “cosmetic surgeon.” Often, cosmetic surgeons graduate from medical schools of a lesser caliber, sometimes located outside the United States, and do not even complete a residency. The term “cosmetic surgeon” came into existence in response to lenient medical related laws; these laws enable essentially any medical doctor to practice any type of medicine he chooses. Therefore, and legally, a pathologist can perform brain surgery, a family practice doctor can do heart bypass surgery, and a radiologist can perform reconstructive surgery. Any physician regardless of surgical experience or qualifications can be a “cosmetic surgeon.”  Although physicians realize they can legally perform any procedure they wish, most restrain themselves for ethical reasons. However, with the introduction of HMOs and reductions in insurance reimbursements, many doctors have turned to the potentially lucrative business of cosmetic surgery, without the proper training. 

 A cosmetic surgeon is a doctor of any medical specialty, sometimes not even a surgeon.  Any doctor, regardless of their training, can attend a few short courses in liposuction, breast augmentation or any other procedure and become a cosmetic surgeon.  This means a gynecologist, dermatologist, or even pediatrician can take a few weekend courses and become a cosmetic surgeon.  A cosmetic surgeon is a legitimate doctor; they do not break the law by performing cosmetic surgery; however, they are not certified by American Board of Medical Specialty, nor have the proper training to perform complex cases or handle unforeseen complications. A doctor can start a cosmetic surgery practice soon after finishing medical school at age of mid twenties. 

 With all said, here are a few key points in choosing a qualified doctor:

Is the doctor Eligible or Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery?  If the answer is: “No, but I am board certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic Surgery or  the American Board of Oculoplastic Surgery or the American Board of Dermatological Plastic Surgery,  or a Board Certified Cosmetic Surgeon, etc.” they have NOT completed a Plastic Surgery Training.

 If a doctor claims he is an expert in certain procedures only, i.e.: breast surgery or liposuction, this may imply partial or poor training.

 If a surgeon cannot offer all procedures but rather a limited number of procedures, a patient may end up with a procedure that the doctor is comfortable with rather than the procedure the patient would benefit the most.

 If a doctor dose not have privilege to perform surgery in a hospital, he might have been found to be unqualified by other surgeons to perform this procedure.

 Make Informed Decisions

 If you are considering cosmetic surgery, remember: 12 crucial words could protect you from potential disaster. The words that you should always ask your potential plastic surgeon are: “Are you eligible or certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery?”

The answer should be one that assures you that you are in good hands. Remember, a plastic surgeon goes through years of training, because one is not certified does not mean that are not capable of handling your needs. The bottom line is, be an educated patient, become informed about your surgeon’s qualifications. It is up to you to decide if your surgeon is safe.

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