Dr. Christine Hamori recently facilitated a round-table discussion with colleagues Dr. Bill Adams and Dr. Constantino Mendieta. The subject? Board Certification. The issue? How patients can discern the difference between credentials that truly matters and those that are just fluff. Dr. Adams believes the distinctions are getting tougher for patients. “Any surgeon can create a good digital marketing site and look really legitimate despite a lack of training in plastic surgery procedures,” he says. Dr. Hamori has seen some websites touting a surgeon’s training, “under a famous European plastic surgeon,” but digging a bit deeper reveals the surgeon is not boarded in plastic surgery but a different specialty altogether. “You can’t blame patients for assuming,” she says. The concensus of all 3 surgeons is that more education is necessary for prospective patients to make the best decision in choosing their surgeon.
Boards: A Tutorial
There are 24 formally recognized medical specialties. The primary function of each American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) Member Board is to certify physicians in their primary specialty and sub-specialty areas and to support the professional development of those board certified physicians throughout their career. This is accomplished through a comprehensive process involving educational requirements, professional peer evaluation, examination, and professional development.
There is an American Board of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. There is not an American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, yet surgeons who hold a board certification in other areas will perform cosmetic surgery. Dr. Mendieta calls it, “extraordinarily confusing. We have seen general surgeons, gynecologists and even emergency medicine physicians begin to practice plastic surgery. They might be doing those procedures, but they did not take near the time or in-depth training a plastic surgeon took to develop their craft. These doctors trained in a completely different arena, but with some clever marketing can fool people.”
An Elite Specialty
In fact, plastic surgery is one of the most elite, demanding specialties to which a surgeon can aspire. Dr. Mendieta attended medical school for 4 years, did general surgery for 5, spent 3 years in plastic surgery and completed a 1 year fellowship. Drs. Hamori and Adams have similar backgrounds.
Dr. Adams draws the analogy between a surgeon and a pilot. “It gets down to certain regimented training programs that are tried and tested,” he explains. “American Airlines is not going to let a pilot who just got his license a week ago, fly a jumbo jet with a load of people around the world. Similarly, we committed to proven pathways to learn our specialty. Just because a doctor takes a weekend course in breast augmentation or liposuction, doesn’t mean they should be doing it.” Dr. Adams is not exaggerating. There are such weekend courses—and they are well attended by surgeons trying to “expand” their horizons. Dr. Hamori warns patients that the notion that, “once you are a doctor—you can do anything and everything…is dangerous.”
Look for a Sign
So, what can a patient do to feel secure? Dr. Adams advises patients to look for the icons for ASPS (American Society of Plastic Surgeons) or ASAPS (American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons) on a surgeon’s website. These societies reliably identify board certified plastic surgeon. Dr. Mendieta is a proponent of thoroughly researching any surgeon you are considering: “Make sure you know who that surgeon is and what they are trained in.”
One of the things all three surgeons emphasized is erring on the side of caution. “You can have problems during surgery even with the best surgeon. You are adding risk to the possibilities of developing complications and they won’t know how to handle it,” counsels Mendieta.
Bottom line: Put yourself in the best hands you can— the hands of a board certified plastic surgeon.