Choosing a Plastic Surgeon

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The recent death of Donda West (mother of singer Kanye West), after a tummy tuck and breast reduction, has raised concerns about the safety of cosmetic surgery procedures. There has been a significant increase in calls inquiring about safety issues as they relate to cosmetic surgery after her highly publicized death recently. Patients wanted to know if cosmetic procedures were really safe and how they should go about choosing a reliable plastic surgeon. These are important questions for anyone who is considering cosmetic surgery to ask.

Is cosmetic surgery safe? The answer is yes. Is it without risk or complications? The answer unfortunately is no. All surgery, from something as simple as the removal of a mole to something as complicated as cardiac bypass surgery, has risks. Certain risks or complications such as infection, post-operative bleeding and wound healing issues are inherent to all surgical procedures but occur more often with a particular kind of procedure. Other complications are specific only to a particular type of procedure. Data collected by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons revealed that the risk of death from elective cosmetic surgery procedures performed at outpatient facilities was .00019%, while complications like infections, bleeding or healing issues happen in .34% of patients. These rates are very low and compare favorably to the complications of other procedures performed in hospitals.

Is it worth the risk to have cosmetic surgery? Certainly no one wants any of these things to happen to them, but not all surgery will go off without a hitch. Most complications are fairly minor, but some can be major, requiring additional surgery or prolonged hospital stays. Rarely, they can even lead to death. Assessing whether the risks of surgery are worth the benefits is something that you and your surgeon should work together to decide. It is important for you to give your doctor all of your medical history when meeting with him or her. It is equally important for your doctor to spend time discussing the potential risks, possible side effects and consequences of the operation, as well as the realistic benefits of your surgery with you. Remember your plastic surgeon is a doctor not a salesman. If you don’t feel like you are talking to a doctor when discussing your surgery then maybe something isn’t quite right.

How do I go about choosing a plastic surgeon? You should first look for a surgeon who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Due to the continued decrease in reimbursement from insurance companies for covered procedures and the financial “windfall” one can gain from the increasing demand for cosmetic surgery, many physicians not trained in plastic surgery have started trying to do these procedures. Some of these physicians will advertise being board certified but are board certified in a specialty other than plastic surgery such as dermatology, gynecology, oral surgery or even internal medicine. Don’t be fooled. This is not the same thing as being board certified in plastic surgery.

What does it mean to be board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery? Currently there are 24 medical specialties recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (you can view a list at

The American Board of Plastic Surgery is among those 24 boards and is the only one recognized in the area of cosmetic surgery. It also means that your doctor has completed a minimum of five years of surgical residency training, usually 3 years of general surgery and two years of plastic surgery.