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Who’s Really Qualified to Perform Cosmetic Surgery? Separating Fact from Fiction

August 7, 2018 - Rhys Branman, MD

Dr. Branman was recently appointed by the governor to serve on the Arkansas State Medical Board. Here he is being sworn in. View a full list of Dr. Branman’s awards & qualifications.

Believe it or not, the media doesn’t get everything 100% right (big surprise, I know). Information about cosmetic surgery is not immune to such error—especially when it comes to who is qualified to perform cosmetic surgery.

Depending on what you read, you might even wonder if only plastic surgeons should perform cosmetic procedures. In fact, considerably more cosmetic surgery training and experience is required to become a board certified cosmetic surgeon than a plastic surgeon. Yet many doctors who fashion themselves as “cosmetic” or “aesthetic surgeons” are neither of the above. Confused? I don’t blame you.

There are many reasons misinformation continues to circulate, but what’s most important is that patients get the facts about a surgeon’s credentials, training, and experience in cosmetic surgery so they can make confident, safe decisions. So let’s clear a few things up.

Fact: Any licensed doctor can legally perform cosmetic surgery

It’s scary, but true—all you need to legally perform cosmetic procedures is a medical degree and a valid license. This means just about any doctor can offer facelifts, liposuction, etc., whether or not they’ve had any specific training in these procedures. What is more, there’s no law keeping them from advertising themselves as a “cosmetic surgeon.”

However, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical or in your best interest, and unfortunately, unscrupulous and under-qualified doctors do perform cosmetic surgery after only a weekend course. This is why it is extremely important to make sure the cosmetic surgeon you choose is board certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.

Fact: Board certified cosmetic surgeons are a distinct group of highly trained cosmetic surgery specialists

There’s a critical difference between a “cosmetic surgeon” and a board certified cosmetic surgeon—a difference many media pieces fail to distinguish. To become board certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, a cosmetic surgeon must complete a 1-year, full-time cosmetic surgery training fellowship after their primary medical training and residency, in which they work with real patients in a real practice and complete 300+ cases covering all aspects of facial, breast, and body cosmetic surgery. In fact, board certified cosmetic surgeons must complete nearly double the number of cosmetic procedures in training to become board certified than plastic surgeons do.

In addition, board certified cosmetic surgeons meet stringent standards for safe and ethical practice. They operate solely in accredited surgical facilities and keep a spotless record in background checks. Here is a complete list of what’s required to become a board certified cosmetic surgeon.

So again, don’t be fooled by anyone calling themselves a “cosmetic surgeon” who is not board certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. Also, be wary of any media piece or ad that lumps board certified cosmetic surgeons in with non-certified “cosmetic surgeons.”

Fact: A plastic surgeon is not necessarily better trained in cosmetic procedures than a board certified cosmetic surgeon

There’s a misconception that plastic surgeons have “the most” cosmetic surgery training. In reality, board certified cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons both undergo many years of post-medical school training, with some key differences:

  • Plastic surgeons complete their cosmetic surgery training as a portion of their residency, while board certified cosmetic surgeons complete a residency in an approved, related discipline (e.g., maxillofacial surgery), become board certified in that specialty, and then complete an additional 1 to 2 years of full-time cosmetic surgery training as a requirement to become board certified in cosmetic surgery. Some plastic surgeons do pursue further cosmetic surgery training post-residency, but it’s not required.
  • Plastic surgery residency training is primarily reconstructive in nature, involving procedures such as burn repair, cleft repair, and trauma surgery. Cosmetic surgery fellowship training required by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery is 100% cosmetic and includes surgical face, breast, and body procedures as well as non-surgical treatments (e.g., BOTOX injections, laser resurfacing).
  • Cosmetic surgeons must complete a minimum of 300 cosmetic surgery cases to become board certified, while plastic surgeons complete 150 cosmetic surgery cases minimum.
  • Both board certified cosmetic surgeons and board certified plastic surgeons must pass rigorous exams and partake in continuing medical education and periodic re-examination to maintain their board certification.

Fact: You can verify a cosmetic surgeon’s credentials (and it’s pretty easy)

Board certified cosmetic surgeons have dedicated years of their lives and careers to becoming experts in their specialty and are usually proud to display their American Board of Cosmetic Surgery board certification—you can usually find this emblem on their website or practice materials. Likewise, most board certified plastic surgeons I know display their equivalent credentials.

Even so, a good way to double-check whether your cosmetic surgeon is board certified is to call the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery or check the ABCS directory. By choosing a surgeon on this list, you are ensuring your cosmetic surgeon has the training and experience necessary to perform cosmetic surgery safely and achieve the excellent outcome you deserve.

Verifying a cosmetic surgeon’s credentials is essential, but it’s also important that you feel comfortable and confident that your cosmetic surgeon understands your concerns and goals and can achieve results that will enhance your natural appeal.

One last thing I want everyone looking for a cosmetic surgeon in Little Rock to know…

The best way to establish a rapport is to meet in person for a consultation with the cosmetic surgeon you’re considering. At Cosmetic Surgery Center in Little Rock, my priority is to help patients learn and understand their options without pressure to make a decision, so the initial consultation is always free. If you are considering a cosmetic surgery procedure, I invite you to first review my training and credentials, and then contact my office to schedule a consultation.

I hope reading this post has helped you better understand who is qualified to perform cosmetic surgery, and I wish you the best in finding the right cosmetic surgeon for you!

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