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Although cosmetic procedures are usually skin deep and not considered medically necessary, the fact remains that they can be serious surgeries and have life-altering complications. If you’ve ever seen a botched plastic surgery, you know this.

Now, some of these botched procedures are coming from offices that don’t belong to plastic surgeons. There’s a growing trend for physicians with other specialties performing cosmetic procedures after taking weekend courses. This is dangerous, and it’s alarming board-certified plastic surgeons.

What is a board-certified surgeon?

“When a doctor is a board-certified plastic surgeon, it ensures that doctor is extensively trained in both facial and body procedures, has learned how to prevent and handle emergencies that may arise during a procedure and has developed technical skill and aesthetic judgment,” said Lisa Jacob, MD, a plastic surgeon at Geisinger.

A board-certified plastic surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), which is the only board the American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes to certify doctors in the full range of plastic and reconstructive procedures.

“In order to be certified by the ABPS, a doctor has to have at least five years of approved surgical training, which includes a plastic surgery residency. In addition, a physician must also pass comprehensive written and oral exams in plastic surgery,” Dr. Jacob said.

Unfortunately, there are many doctors out there that have received formal training in another specialty that may call themselves plastic surgeons, even if they aren’t trained in plastic surgery.

“Plastic surgeons are trained to perform surgery and have a comprehensive education that includes a solid foundation in anatomy and physiology. This training and education provides plastic surgeons with an understanding of all body systems, including ventilation, circulation and fluid and electrolyte balance, which is vitally important to patient safety,” Dr. Jacob said.

Once a physician becomes board certified, he or she must continue to maintain the certification.

“Board-certified plastic surgeons are required to operate in only accredited facilities, required to perform continuing education, adhere to a strict code of ethics and are highly trained in all aspects of plastic surgery,” Dr. Jacob said.

Currently, most state laws allow any licensed physician to call him or herself a plastic or cosmetic surgeon even if they haven’t been trained as a plastic surgeon or have had no surgical training at all.

“A complicating factor for patients is that these doctors may state that they’re board certified. And they may be, just not in plastic surgery. It’s confusing for patients,” Dr. Jacob said.

How to know if your surgeon is board-certified

“Patients should ask their physician a lot of questions. And they should specifically ask if he or she is board certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. They should also request to see before and after photos of patients the doctor has operated on to see what kind of results they can expect,” Dr. Jacob recommended. You should also ask where they perform their procedures. Only board-certified plastic surgeons can perform surgery perform surgery in accredited, state-licensed, or Medicare-certified surgical facilities.

In addition, you can visit the American Board of Plastic Surgery website. There, you can look up your surgeon to confirm he or she is certified.

Next steps: 

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