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Plastic Surgeons and Reality TV: Good Idea?

Plastic Surgeons and Reality TV: Good Idea?

The fictional show “Nip/Tuck” kicked off the trend: plastic surgeons today have infiltrated the reality TV arena in a big way. Is this a good idea or not?

The popularity of shows like “Botched” or “Miami Slice” that feature real plastic surgeons commenting on cosmetic procedures gone wrong – or giving viewers an inside look into their personal and professional lives – has put these surgeons in the hot seat with many of their own colleagues. For example, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) is taking a harder line on members participating in these kinds of TV shows.

Dr. Michael Lee of Dallas and Dr. Mark Epstein of New York, discuss whether or not this is right and how these reality TV shows are affecting their specialty.

Reality TV & Perception – Not Always What Plastic Surgeons Think

“Since there are multiple shows now, I think we have a much better idea of the negative impact that these shows can have on the speciality,” explains Dr. Lee. For starters, networks are not necessarily interested in featuring the most qualified plastic surgeons – those who are board certified and whose primary concern is delivering great care and exemplary results to their patients.

Networks are “concerned with ratings.” They want personalities and stories that are going to stir the pot and create controversy. This is not to say that every surgeon who goes on one of these shows is a bad surgeon or doesn’t care about his or her patients. But, as we all know, perception is reality, and even though some of these surgeons might have signed up to do one of these shows because they wanted to promote the positive aspects of plastic surgery, the networks are the ones with final cut.

People watching plastic surgery reality TV shows.

They have the ability to manipulate the footage so that what these surgeons say or do may be perceived in a different way than they intended. In addition, there are other issues at stake other than the way that the speciality is perceived by the public, such as invasion of privacy issues with patients. Bottom line, the clear winner in the plastic surgeons and reality TV debate is the network so it seems right that the  professional societies whose job it is to protect the speciality are entering the debate.

Plastic Surgeons Can’t Control Reality TV Environment

On the flip side of this, however, a surgeon might say, ‘Well it’s my right to do the television show if I want to as long as the patient signs off on it’. Dr. Epstein agrees – t is a surgeon’s right. “But what the surgeon has to understand is that you’re entering into an environment that you can not control,” he explains. “Audiences are more sophisticated than they were in the days of watching gladiators fight, but still, tragedy sells.”

Whether it’s someone having a bad complication with their tummy tuck or a cat fight breaking out before a surgery, it is unfortunately often the negative side of a situation or story that attracts viewers and thus advertising time. This is where the problem arises for the societies such as ASAPS and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). The purpose of these societies, in their own words, is:

  • to advance quality care to plastic surgery patients
  • to encourage high standards of training, ethics, physician practice and research in plastic surgery
  • to support its members in the provision of excellent patient care
  • to educate and advocate for patients
  • to enhance public awareness of the value of plastic surgery
  • to foster the highest professional, ethical, and quality standards.

Plastic surgeons who are members of these societies – who have completed the extensive training and vetting to become board certified – have done so because they believe in the societies’ tenets.

This is even the case for board certified plastic surgeons who participate in these reality TV shows. They may want to use the exposure from a reality TV show with a huge audience to promote patient safety and quality care and all of the good things that plastic surgeons stand for, but the producer of the show is the one who decides what ends up on the cutting room floor. They’re the ones who can dictate the “spin” of the show which puts the plastic surgeon is in a very precarious position. He or she may come in thinking that they’re delivering one message to the audience, but they watch the final show and how they’re actually portrayed can be totally different.

Both Dr. Lee and Dr. Epstein agree that there is a place for plastic surgeons and TV. It can be an amazing arena through which to educate patients, and show how good plastic surgeons always work in the best interest of the patient.

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