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How to Find a Good Plastic Surgeon

6 tips from an expert to find the best doc for nips, tucks and tweaks.

woman's face being touched by multiple hands with surgical gloves on.
A doctor examining a woman's face

The care you need for the results you want

Once you’ve decided to have a little nip, tuck or tweak, there’s another decision that’s just as important: Who is going to do your procedure?

A lot rests on your choice—not only your appearance, but your safety as well. Whether you’re having an elective procedure like a tummy tuck, scar removal or fillers, or you’re reconstructing a breast after mastectomy, you want to make sure your surgeon is well-trained, has an excellent reputation and will be able to look at you in a holistic way to give you options that make sense for your situation and lifestyle, says Dr. Oren Lerman, a cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon at Northwell Health’s Lenox Hill Hospital and associate professor of surgery at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. 

As more people opt for lifts, lipo and laser hair removal, more practitioners have flooded the beautification business. But you may not necessarily want some of them working on you. To help you get the best results, here are our expert tips to keep in mind.

1. Look for a board-certified plastic surgeon

Plastic surgery is a complicated specialty, and you want someone who has been expertly trained in it. Board certification by The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) assures you that the doctor has graduated from an accredited medical school, has completed at least six to eight years of surgical training, including general and plastic surgery, and continues with ongoing education and testing.

Buyer beware: Any licensed physician can practice plastic surgery legally. (Yes, an orthopedist can do breast augmentation!) And doctors can call themselves board-certified “cosmetic surgeons” and “aesthetic surgeons,” neither of which are plastic surgeons.

Are all of your friends getting Botox, and you want in? A plastic surgeon can evaluate your entire face to be able to tell you whether Botox is a great idea, or that it may not give you what you want and that laser resurfacing or eyelid rejuvenation surgery may work better.

“You want to make sure your doctor has comprehensive training and a lot of experience, so he can help you achieve the best result for you,” says Dr. Lerman.

Additionally, since most cosmetic procedures are not covered by insurance, your health insurance company won’t vet your surgeon. Board certification in plastic surgery means your doctor is completely prepared if anything goes south, and can admit you to a hospital for care if needed (something that can’t be guaranteed if you go to a different type of doctor, as hospitals only grant privileges to doctors practicing medicine in the field they’re board certified in).

To find out whether a surgeon is board certified by ABPS, look them up on the ABPS database.

2. Ask friends, family and your physician for recommendations

Do you know anyone who has had work done that looks good? They can provide useful information about their doctor and prepare you for what’s going to happen from start to finish. Ask detailed questions about any doctor they’ve used: How is his bedside manner? Did the doc address all their concerns? Were they given realistic expectations? Were they happy with the results?

Plastic surgeon looking at patients eyes

Look and feel your best.

3. View Google with the proverbial grain

When it comes to picking doctors, social media is both a blessing and a burden. Online review sites can reveal a surgeon’s education and training, what people are saying about him, and even include before and after pictures. Many surgeons’ websites have helpful information to teach you about the procedures you’re considering.

But be careful. “Unlike other fields of medicine, plastic surgeons spend a lot of time and money to promote themselves online,” says Dr. Lerman. And reviews can be misleading. “We joke that one unhappy patient is more influential than 100 happy patients,” he says. Be particularly wary of anonymous reviews—was it really written by an unhappy patient? A former disgruntled employee? Another surgeon in the area? There’s no way to know.

4. Meet the surgeon beforehand

Of all the pieces of advice, this is probably the most important. “You want a good fit,” says Dr. Lerman. “You want to make sure that the surgeon understands your concerns, that they give you good options to treat those concerns, and that you trust that person.”

Ask the surgeon how often she does the procedure you’re considering. The American Society for Plastic Surgeons recommends you look for a minimum of once a week for five years or more. Ask to see before and after pictures and make sure you see at least two “afters” taken a year or more after surgery.

Make sure you like the pictures you see. If every single breast augmentation looks like a swimsuit model, and you’re looking for a more understated look, ask if the doctor has other pictures. If he doesn’t, you may be in the wrong place, says Dr. Lerman.

And the surgeon should be asking you as many questions as you’re asking him. If a doctor tries to sell you something or pushes you in one direction or another, look for the door. If he tells you a procedure is going to take off every wrinkle on your face or make you look like a teenager again, run the other way. “If that were true, that surgeon would put the rest of us out of business,” says Dr. Lerman.

A good plastic surgeon will even turn away patients if he feels the patient doesn’t have realistic expectations, isn’t willing to hear about the alternatives or isn’t a good candidate for that procedure.

5. Make sure you can forge a long-term relationship

The surgery itself is just one part of the journey. There will be numerous post-op follow-ups, sometimes long-term follow-ups, and possibly even revision surgery. 

Botox, for instance, needs ongoing maintenance every couple of months. Rhinoplasty takes at least six months to a year before you can see the final results. Breast implants need to be replaced several times over the course of a woman’s lifetime.

And although it’s rare, complications do happen, even with the finest surgeons. You want to make sure you will have a good long-term relationship with your doctor, whom you can revisit down the line if necessary.

Your surgeon should have a serious discussion with you about the potential complications and long-term side effects of the surgery you’re considering. “If he sounds like a game show host, or if you’re not getting enough face time with the doctor and spend more time with the staff, find another surgeon,” says Dr. Lerman.

6. Beware of medical tourism

Some people try to save money by traveling out of the country for surgery, but that can backfire big time, and you may end up spending far more in the long run. “You have no idea what kinds of qualifications surgeons abroad have, what the accrediting bodies are, or the cleanliness of the facilities they’re working in,” says Dr. Lerman. And if there’s a complication, you’ll be hard pressed to find a reputable surgeon here who will agree to take care of something done by a stranger overseas because it’s a lose-lose situation. “The doctor is probably not going to be able to fix the problem completely, in which case he’ll have to spend a lot of time with a patient who doesn’t like the result, which is frustrating for everyone,” says Dr. Lerman.

Going under a knife or needle can be scary. But choosing the right partner can give you peace of mind and greater confidence now and for years to come.

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Published July 9th, 2019
A doctor examining a woman's face

The care you need for the results you want