Have you ever been to a plastic surgeon? Are you sure? There are so many different doctors that call themselves plastic surgeons that it is pretty difficult to know who is the real deal. Let’s sort out the details.
The field of plastic surgery is the only part of surgery that knows no boundaries. So, while neurosurgeons operate on the brain, cardiac surgeons operate on the heart, and urologists operate on the prostate, plastic surgeons operate from the top of the head to the tips of the toes.
It takes six years to train a plastic surgeon, and those training programs are the hottest items to snag. Thousands of medical students compete for the couple of hundred of coveted plastic surgery slots. Plastic surgeons learn how to do facelifts and liposuction and all of those trendy cosmetic procedures. And they also fix tendons in the hand, repair cleft lips, do sex changes, face transplants, save burn victims, reconstruct breasts and act as the general fix-it man in the OR. Plastic surgeons pride themselves on being able to fix virtually any wound in the body.
But it’s the part of plastic surgery known as cosmetic surgery that attracts most of the media’s attention. And because this part of plastic surgery is paid for in cold, hard cash, instead of the ever-tightening insurance dollars, everyone from dermatologists to family doctors, to otolaryngologists, to dentists want to get in on the act. And that is why it becomes hard to tell who’s who without a program.
After residency, plastic surgeons think it is their highest priority to take an oral and written test called the “boards”. If they pass, and only about 80 percent do, they call themselves “Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, Inc.” If they have that credential, you know they are real plastic surgeons.
So, does that mean plastic surgery should only be done by plastic surgeons? It used to be true, but medicine has become fragmented and different specialties have begun to train and display real competence in different parts of plastic surgery. So, otolaryngologists (ENTs) have long performed nasal surgery, and those who have completed extra training in facial plastic surgery, join the other plastic surgeons in performing facelifts and eyelid surgery. And many dermatologists have evolved a real expertise in injecting Botox and wrinkle fillers, and treating many cosmetic conditions with lasers and peels. And ophthalmologists with special training may inject Botox and those who train in oculoplastic surgery often perform eyelid cosmetic surgery.
And the family doctors, general surgeons and dentists? Well, it’s hard to justify those groups performing cosmetic surgery or calling themselves plastic surgeons, particularly after taking weekend courses in cosmetic procedures. But they are acting within the letter of the law, which allows virtually all physicians to perform most procedures, regardless of their training. (This system worked well in 1930, but seems outmoded now…)
The bottom line? Check the credentials of your “plastic surgeon” and make sure they are competent in the procedures that they are planning on performing on you.
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