Using Your Smarts: Finding the Right Plastic Surgeon

By Elana Pruitt © 2006-2009 Editor

As you search online, bouncing around from site to site, hoping to be hit with a familiar name and face, you may soon realize that finding an excellent plastic surgeon is not just a snap – or one click away.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the largest plastic surgery specialty organization in the world, “No matter what type of plastic surgery you’re considering, the most important factor in its success is the surgeon you choose.”

Through networking, research, and patience, scoring a doctor you can trust will ultimately lead to rewarding results. “Once you pick the right surgeon, everything falls into place,” says Boris A. Ackerman, M.D., a Newport Beach board certified plastic surgeon, who recently appeared on the Discovery Channel’s “Plastic Surgery: Before and After.” Based on the advice from Dr. Ackerman and information from the ASPS, here are’s top five factors in helping you find the right plastic surgeon.


1. Gathering names of Candidates

You can utilize these tools and sources to gather names of doctors:

Web sitesMillions of names abound the internet, so the Web is a great starting point! But learn how to do your homework and kick your detective skills into gear. “Many patients are not the best consumers. They see ad brochures and good marketing campaigns – half of the patients out there seem to go with just that,” says Dr. Ackerman.

Close friend or family memberTalk to someone who has had the same procedure you’re considering, although it is important to remember that because every person is unique, so is every type of surgery. Take your friend’s thoughts into consideration, but remember not to base your decision on one person’s experience.

A Family DoctorAsking a doctor you already trust for a recommendation to a good plastic surgeon can be a good move. Try asking how many patients he or she has referred to this surgeon and the type of feedback that was offered. A wise question to consider: Would that doctor send a family member to this plastic surgeon?

Operating Room NurseEven if you don’t know one, someone else might. Ask around and you may get the inside scoop on surgeons he or she has worked with.

HospitalsThe importance of knowing who is on staff at a respectable hospital in your area may mean more than collecting a good amount of names; you’re actually engaging in early background work. As a staff member at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, Calif., Dr. Ackerman explains that “they have been reviewed by a hospital, meaning they have passed a credentialing process.”

Special DirectoriesYou can find the names of board certified plastic surgeons, listed by city and state, in certain reference books. Look for special directories by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), available in most public libraries.


2. Checking Credentials

A background check is crucial to the process of finding a good plastic surgeon. Dr. Ackerman says, “It is a basic screening method to find a plastic surgeon that you can entrust your body with. Make sure that a doctor has a practice in the same location for a few years – that they are not bouncing around.”


Training/ ExperienceFind out where the doctor went to school, and the type of training he or she received; especially find out if a surgeon completed an accredited residency program specifically in plastic surgery. If so, you’ll know that he or she had two to three years of intensive training in the full spectrum of reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. You may want to ask when they last performed the procedure you’re considering.

Hospital PrivilegesMany plastic surgeons perform work out of their own private facility. Still, you may want to find out it if he or she has privileges to perform that procedure at an accredited hospital in your community. Call the hospital and find out!

Professional Societies/ Board CertificationFind out if he or she is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) – it’s public record. If a plastic surgeon says he or she belongs to a specific society – jot down the name, and call that society to ask what the requirements for membership are.

MalpracticeMany medical licensing authorities in the United States have listings online. To know if a medical malpractice suit was ever filed against that doctor, you may even want to drop by the courthouse to review files.


3. Initial Consultation Visits

Dr. Ackerman suggests making a list of about three to five candidates, all of whom you should visit for an initial consultation visit, before deciding which plastic surgeon fits your needs. “Notice the professionalism of the staff and front office. Also, take note of how many procedures he has performed, as well as his bedside manner,” he encourages. Communicate your concerns by asking questions. Here are some suggestions:

• Where and how will you perform my surgery?
• What are the risks involved with my procedure?
• Will I need to take time off work? If so, how long?


4. The Fees Involved

You’ll probably want to note that consultation visits may cost you, whether or not you choose that surgeon. The fees involved depend on many circumstances, such as geographic location, the doctor’s experience, the complexity of the procedure, and how long the surgery takes. These costs are usually addressed during the initial consultation. Because you’re putting your body in the hands of someone else, remember that a cheaper deal does not guarantee a quality job.


5. Follow-Up Care

Good plastic surgeons should make sure their patient is healing well through scheduling routine visits; depending on a patient and his or her procedure, follow up care can last from a few weeks to a few months. Dr. Ackerman says it’s the office’s job to help take care of everything, from finding aftercare assistance at recovery centers, and reminding a patient about his or her follow-up visit.

As you dive into searching for the right plastic surgeon, it is important to remember that you may encounter challenges and bumps ahead. Remember to trust your instincts, be patient, and always use your smarts during this process. Your body depends on it.