Board Certification: Making Sense of It All

By Elana Pruitt © 2006-2009 Editor

Many factors play into choosing a good plastic surgeon, and for numerous prospective patients, this means seeking a physician who is “board certified.” But what does that really mean? Plastic surgery is typically a major, irreversible enhancement, so seeking a highly-trained, experienced medical professional should feel refreshing. After all, he or she may not only calm your nerves, but weigh in on the success of your results.

Background checks go hand-in-hand with selecting the right doctor – and the best way to feel completely confident in the care you’re going to receive. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is the umbrella organization for 24 approved medical specialties in the United States, with The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) among its most notable. Yet unfortunately, any surgeon can claim to be board certified or skilled in a particular area, such as breast augmentation, so it is up to you to uncover the truth and make sense of it all.

Here are three of the most common concerns about board certification:

How is the ABPS different from any other board?

The ABPS is the only board exclusive to the full spectrum of plastic surgery. Therefore, doctors who hold this certification are the only ones granted to perform any type of plastic surgery procedure or treatment. Most patients are encouraged to consider a doctor who is board certified by the ABPS, because they can be assured that he or she has underwent extensive training, residency, and work experience. Considering that there are 24 medical specialty boards under the ABMS, be sure to learn which certification a doctor has earned. After all, you should want to get liposuction from a doctor who is board certified in plastic surgery versus someone who holds certification in facial cosmetic surgery, because that surgeon’s specialty is obviously not in the procedure you want.

How does a doctor become board certified by the ABPS?

In order to hold ABPS board certification, a doctor must meet the necessary requirements to perform plastic surgery. He or she has to graduate from an accredited medical school and complete at least five years of additional residency. This includes a minimum of three years of general surgery in an accredited program and two years of plastic surgery in a residency. Also, that doctor should actively practice plastic surgery for two years, and successfully complete comprehensive written and oral examinations.

How can I find out if a physician is board certified?

A patient can visit the ABPS Web site,, to verify board certification of a specific medical specialist who offers such procedures as breast enlargement, tummy tuck surgery, or liposuction. In doing so, you can also learn if a particular doctor has completed required training and is working toward certification. (This service is operated by The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), a national medical specialty society requiring ABPS certification as a condition for membership).

And while choosing a doctor who is board certified in plastic surgery may be the most important factor in your decision, remember that a doctor who does not hold this title may be just as competent in performing your surgery. Personality qualities like the surgeon’s patience, sincerity, and communication skills should also influence your decision. A doctor who has acquired board certification doesn’t automatically equal “credibility,” but in doing a background check, you should feel secure in knowing you uncovered the truth.