Americans spent roughly $16.7 billion on cosmetic procedures in the U.S. in 2020, and that number is likely to continue to grow. Thanks to this level of demand, more doctors are providing cosmetic surgery. With more service providers, there is growing confusion among consumers on terms like “cosmetic surgeon” and “plastic surgeon”, especially when these titles tend to be used interchangeably. What many prospective patients don’t know is that the qualifications and credentials of a cosmetic surgeon are quite different from that of a plastic surgeon.
A study in the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ journal highlights this issue. The study was an online survey involving more than 5,000 participants. Results of the survey showed that a full 87 percent of the respondents held the misconception that special training was a basic requirement for a doctor being permitted to advertise themselves as a plastic or cosmetic surgeon.
Some Untrained Doctors Call Themselves Cosmetic Surgeons
What’s more, did you know that many untrained doctors are calling themselves cosmetic surgeons? Thanks to the growing popularity of plastic surgery, more and more physicians who don’t have the proper training are offering cosmetic surgery procedures to patients. In fact, many doctors performing cosmetic surgery procedures in the United States are not actually cosmetic surgeons. These physicians include dermatologists, family practitioners, gynecologists, dentists, and radiologists. A growing number of physicians, dentists, and oral surgeons further identify as “facial plastic surgeons” and offer a variety of cosmetic surgery procedures. While they are medical doctors, they lack the specialized training and certification required of board-certified plastic surgeons.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, plastic surgery by doctors without specialty training and in-depth clinical experience is one of the most serious problems in plastic surgery. A doctor without the in-depth training and experience required for board certification can lack both surgical experience and clinical judgment, which can lead to devastating cosmetic and even health-threatening results for patients.
When Choosing a Plastic Surgeon, Choose Board-Certified
What is a prospective patient to do? When you have made the decision to undergo plastic surgery, one of the most important decisions you can make is choosing a board-certified plastic surgeon. Choosing the appropriate provider is a crucial step in achieving the best results without sacrificing safety.
The Society recommends that patients ask for their doctors’ qualifications before undergoing any procedure by checking for board certification specifically in plastic surgery.
What is the Most Legitimate Accreditation for Plastic Surgery?
While there are various accredited board certifications, being board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons (ABPS) is the one organization that patients should look for. The ABPS (unlike other cosmetic surgery boards) is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), which sets very stringent standards for earning board certification to ensure that patients are more likely to experience successful procedures.
What Does it Mean to be Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS)?
ABPS board certification means that the plastic surgeon has met rigorous certification standards. It means that the doctor has undergone no fewer than six years of specialized, intensive training to achieve their professional designation. He or she has also obtained a degree at an accredited medical school, and finished three years of general surgical training as well as a two to three year plastic surgery residency program. The residency is followed up by two years of practice and successfully passing challenging comprehensive written and oral exams administered by the ABPS. These high standards help ensure that patients are less likely to experience complications and more likely to see successful outcomes.
Here’s Why Board Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery Matters When Choosing a Plastic Surgeon:
Getting Board Certification is a Rigorous Process
To get board certification in plastic surgery, a surgeon must have graduated from an accredited medical school, completed at least five years of approved surgical experience that includes 2 years of plastic surgery residency as well as have passed comprehensive oral and written exams. During the oral exam, the surgeon must present his or her own cases from the past year as well as be prepared to answer random questions from the entire field of plastic surgery.
Your Surgeon Has Hands-on Experience
A board-certified plastic surgeon must have at least five years of surgical experience that includes a plastic surgery residency program. When you choose a board-certified surgeon, you can be sure that your surgeon has a wealth of knowledge from hands-on experience and training from other Board-Certified Plastic Surgeons.
Board-Certified Surgeons Have Continuing Education Requirements
Becoming a board-certified plastic surgeon requires more than gaining experience and passing an exam; it’s also a commitment to continuing education to stay current on the newest trends and safest practices. During a consecutive three-year period, board-certified surgeons must earn at least 150 credits of Continuing Medical Education (CME). Board-Certified Plastic Surgeons must also participate in the Maintenance of Certification Program from the ABPS throughout their careers. This ensures your physician is able to deliver the highest quality of care by learning better and safer ways to perform procedures and deliver the best possible aesthetic results.
Patients can expect that the board certification process has validated the plastic surgeon’s qualifications and experience needed to make sound judgments that ensure patient safety.
“The only accredited board certifications patients truly need to look for are those from the ABMS,” says Seattle plastic surgeon Dr. Shahram Salemy. “Not all board certifications are created equal. Earning board certification from a Board recognized by the ABMS is a very long, difficult process that’s designed to ensure that surgeons are truly ready to practice safely. Doctors must meet very strict and rigorous criteria, pass an exhaustive exam, possess top-rate credentials, have at least a minimum number of accredited residency cases, and present their own cases during a challenging oral exam.”
“Requiring doctors to meet strict standards for board certification in plastic surgery protects patients,” explains board-certified Seattle plastic surgeon Dr. Shahram Salemy. “It is critical that patients ask questions and do their research. For their own wellbeing, they need to be confident that they have selected a surgeon who has the skills and training to provide excellent results while putting patient safety first.”
How to Check Plastic Surgeon Credentials
Plastic surgery is an effective way for patients to reach their aesthetic goals. Utilizing both minimally invasive techniques and precise, artful surgical cosmetic procedures to target specific areas, experienced plastic surgeons can create firmer, more balanced physiques and healthier, revitalized profiles. But how can patients be certain that their doctor is actually an experienced, well-qualified plastic surgeon? One key is to check his or her credentials.
Researching a doctor’s credentials is simple. People can contact their state medical board to verify that the doctor they are investigating is properly licensed and to learn more about his or her education and board certification, as well as the details of any disciplinary action. Anyone who has difficulty locating his or her state medical board can visit the Federation of State Medical Boards online for assistance.
Finally, contacting the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is the best place to ensure a doctor’s certification and learn more about a doctor’s board certification in any specialty; for plastic surgeons, prospective patients can also reach out to the American Board of Plastic Surgery, the ABMS’ member board for plastic surgery, for confirmation of a doctor’s credentials.
Choosing a Plastic Surgeon – Other Criteria
Reviewing board certification is one credential that patients should always check. In addition to board certification, there are other factors to consider when choosing a plastic surgeon, including a surgeon’s experience, especially in the procedure of interest. Patients also can make more informed decisions by reviewing before and after photographs of patients who had a similar body type and a similar procedure performed. Seeing the successful results of other people can help new patients choose the right surgeon. For more on choosing a plastic surgeon, read this article.
How is the ABPS Different from Other Plastic Surgery (or Cosmetic Surgery) Certification Boards?
The ABPS is an independent, non-profit certification body that promotes exacting and rigorous standards for the entire spectrum of plastic surgery. Patients are encouraged to vet the training and testing requirements of other boards to make an informed decision.
As a member of and in partnership with the independent American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), ABPS board-certified surgeons continually assess and enhance their medical knowledge, judgment, professionalism, and clinical techniques and create lifelong learning standards that help to ensure physicians keep abreast of the latest practices and treatments. The ABPS is long-established as a respected foundation for national standards of physician accountability and quality patient care.
Can My Physician Practice Plastic Surgery if He/She is NOT Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery?
A physician with a medical license from a state medical board is permitted to perform plastic surgery. Ultimately, however, patients can opt for a surgeon who has met all the rigorous additional standards and professional requirements for certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Verifying certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery is a way for patients to feel confident the surgeon provides among the highest levels of quality and expertise in plastic surgery.
What is the Difference Between the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons?
The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) are two distinct and unrelated professional organizations that serve different functions in the plastic surgery landscape.
The ABPS is a professional medical organization whose “mission is to promote safe, ethical, efficacious plastic surgery to the public by maintaining high standards for the education, examination, certification, and continuous certification of plastic surgeons as specialists and subspecialists”. It is the ABPS that certifies plastic surgeons once they meet stringent educational requirements, complete a specific and rigorous training program and successfully pass written and oral exams. It’s important to note that the ABPS is the only plastic surgery board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), thereby making Board Certification by the ABPS the most credible certification a plastic surgeon can achieve.
The ASPS is a professional society of plastic surgeons and is the largest plastic surgery specialty organization in the world, representing 92 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States. ASPS member surgeons must meet very high training, education, and safety standards so they foster the highest professional, ethical and quality standards in their patient care.