Choosing a Plastic Surgeon

No matter what type of plastic surgery you’re considering, the most important factor in its success is the surgeon you choose.

Many people believe they’re protected by laws that require doctors offering specialty care to meet certain qualifications. In fact, no such laws exist. Anyone with a medical degree can call himself or herself a plastic surgeon, advertise those services, and perform them.

How, then, can you find and determine if your doctor is a well-trained, qualified, experienced plastic surgeon? What follows is some basic information you should know.


While good credentials can’t guarantee you’ve found a good plastic surgeon, they can significantly increase the odds.


More important than where your surgeon went to school is the type of training he or she received. Has the surgeon completed an accredited residency program specifically in plastic surgery? Such a program includes two or three years of intensive training in the full spectrum of reconstructive and cosmetic procedures.

While your plastic surgeon may choose to concentrate on a limited number of procedures, this comprehensive background gives a solid foundation to his or her skills.

Other physicians, in contrast, may not have the same breadth and depth of background. They may have been trained in an unrelated specialty and later switched, learning plastic surgery procedures through weekend workshops, official-sounding “fellowships,” or video tapes.

Board Certification

Everyone has heard the phrase “board-certified.” But very few people know what it means, or what to look for. It’s not enough to ask if your surgeon is board certified.You want to find a doctor certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). This is the only board authorized to certify doctors in plastic surgery by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), an organization supported by the American Medical Association and other major medical organizations.

Certification by the ABPS means that the physician has graduated from an accredited medical school; completed three or more years of residency training in general surgery (or its equivalent); and completed at least two years of approved residency training in plastic surgery. The surgeon must then practice plastic surgery for at least two years, pass exhaustive written and oral examinations, and be judged to meet the high ethical standards of the ABPS.

Hospital Privileges

Even if your surgery will be performed in the doctor’s own surgical facility, he or she should have privileges to perform that procedure at an accredited hospital in your community. It means the surgeon is subject to approval by a body of his or her peers. Call the hospital to make sure.


Although there’s no magic number (of years or procedures) that defines “experience,” you should feel comfortable that the surgeon you choose is well versed and up-to-date in the procedure you’re considering. You can ask the surgeon if he or she does the procedure you are considering frequently or only occasionally, and when he or she last performed that procedure.

Professional Societies

Physicians may belong to a wide array of professional societies, but -as with board certification- some are more meaningful than others. If a physician tells you he or she belongs to a particular society, get the exact name and call the society to find out what the requirements for membership are.

Of the societies representing plastic surgeons, one of the most demanding -and by far the largest- is the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (ASPRS). Its members must be certified by the ABPS and reviewed by their peers. They must also participate in continuing education and adhere to a strict code of ethics.